The first exhibition to travel in Winterthur's history, An American Vision: Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur Museum presents a selection of the museum's rarest and most renowned objects, including furniture, textiles, paintings, works on paper, ceramics, glass, and metalwork, all made or used in America between 1640 and 1860.
More than 449,000 visitors viewed An American Vision when it was initially presented at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in celebration of Winterthur's 50th anniversary in 2002. The MIA is the first venue on its national tour outside of Washington, which includes the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and the Atlanta History Center in Georgia.
Winterthur, An American Country Estate The great American collector Henry Francis du Pont founded Winterthur, An American Country Estate, in 1951. Set on nearly one thousand acres of rolling countryside, the Winterthur estate has been home to du Ponts since 1837. Born at Winterthur in 1880, Henry Francis du Pont distinguished himself as an astute connoisseur and collector of American fine and decorative arts. By acquiring many of the finest and rarest items made or used in America between 1640 and 1860, he chronicled American history through objects Americans owned. Du Pont's collecting was by his own admission driven by personal interests, but he recognized the importance of building a representative collection, which today comprises more than 85,000 objects.
Exhibition Details The exhibition focuses on five major style periods and themes that mark Henry Francis du Pont's accomplishments as a collector. Several themes run through each section, including documented works signed or labeled by their makers; English, European, and Asian sources of inspiration; and the uniquely American aspects of the works on view. Early Settlement and Sophistication: This section of the exhibition explores the decorative arts of the earliest settlers in colonial America. Many of these works are reminiscent of mannerist and late Renaissance designs that were popular in England and the Netherlands at the time. The centerpiece of this section, an impressive 1680 court cupboard from Essex County, Massachusetts, displays fine examples of silver, pewter, and ceramic objects.
Passion for Rococo: The objects in this section feature outstanding pieces created by mid-18th-century artisans working in urban centers such as Philadelphia, Charleston, and Boston, in a style commonly called Chippendale after the English craftsman whose design books helped disseminate a taste for extravagant curves and ornamentation. A particular favorite of du Pont's, objects in this style conveyed true status and beauty, often rivaling foreign products. A magnificent 1769 mahogany high chest (8 feet high, with gilded hardware) and the matching dressing table and chair made for Michael and Miriam Gratz of Philadelphia are included, as well as seven major paintings by preeminent American artists of the day.
East Meets West: The influence of China on 18th-century American design captivated du Pont. He collected both objects that were imported from the East by wealthy colonials and those produced by European and English craftsmen who interpreted the Oriental motifs in their own fashion. Among the items brought to America from China were dinner sets of individually monogrammed porcelain made specifically for export to Europe and America. Hand-painted and printed cottons produced in India were among the most popular and influential exports from the East. Among Western interpretations of Oriental designs in the exhibition are a brilliantly lacquered Boston high chest of drawers circa 1750 and a tea table with Oriental fretwork galleries and stretchers. The Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans: Among the earliest collecting interests of du Pont and one of the great strengths of the Winterthur collection are the colorful decorative arts of the German settlers of eastern Pennsylvania.
This section offers cupboards filled with boldly decorated pottery, chests painted and inlaid with symbolic images of flowers and birds, woven coverlets and quilts, and illuminated manuscripts called fraktur, which served as paper records of marriages, births, and house blessings. Such objects, made by and for these rural communities, document various aspects of their daily lives and the wealth of their cultural heritage. American Classicism: This section of the exhibition displays the brilliance of the classical revival in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as colonials became Americans and created their own patriotic heroes reinterpreted from French and English versions of Greek and Roman designs. One such hero was George Washington, who was depicted in scores of textiles, ceramics, paintings, and other decorative objects from this period. These images of America's first president, including John Trumbull's renowned painting Washington at Verplanck's Point (1790), reinforced the concept of democracy and the birth of a new nation.
A final vignette in the exhibition, taken from the du Pont dining room at Winterthur, demonstrates du Pont's quest for objects with historical significance and his genius for arranging works with relation to color, proportion, and composition. A spectacular 1790 New York sideboard is adorned with six matching tankards made by Boston silversmith Paul Revere in 1772, two mahogany urn-shaped knife cases owned originally by wealthy merchant Elias Hasket Derby, and a selection of exquisite pieces of Chinese porcelain made for the American market. Above the sideboard hangs Benjamin West's important unfinished painting American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain (1783-1784), a scene that heralds the official conclusion of the American Revolution.
This exhibition is organized by Winterthur, An American Country Estate. It is curated by Wendy A. Cooper, the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil Senior Curator of Furniture at Winterthur.
Ticket Information An American Vision is a special ticketed exhibition. Tickets are $8 for adults; $6 for seniors, students, and adult groups; and $4 for children 6-12. Admission is free for children 5 and under, and student and children's groups. Tickets may sell out at peak times and on weekends. To reserve tickets, call (612) 870-3000.
Free Bus Funds! Limited school bus reimbursement funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis for school groups touring An American Vision. To receive a tour request form, call the MIA's tour office at (612) 870-3140 or download a request form at www.artsmia.org/education/tours.
Public Programs Winterthur: Henry Francis du Pont's Adventures in Collecting American Furniture Lecturer: Wendy A. Cooper Thursday, February 8, 11 a.m. Free Wendy A. Cooper, curator An American Vision and the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeill Senior Curator of Furniture at Winterthur, will discuss the museum and its collection, including specific items in the exhibition. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Institute at the MIA.
Iron at Winterthur Lecturer: Donald Fennimore Saturday, February 24, 2 p.m. Free Donald Fennimore, senior curator of metals at Winterthur, will discuss the history and use of cast, wrought, and sheet iron in the everyday life of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century Americans. This event is sponsored by the Decorative Arts Curatorial Council at the MIA.
Family Day: "Marching Through Time"Â Sunday, March 11, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Free March through the MIA and celebrate symbols of early American history. An American clock in the Winterthur exhibition, complete with a sculpture of George Washington, an eagle, and other patriotic symbols, shows the importance placed on early American heroes. Recreate the symbols of the U.S. $1 bill, where George Washington takes center stage, in a fun, hands-on art activity.
Catalogue Published in conjunction with the exhibition, An American Vision: Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur Museum is a beautifully illustrated catalogue written by organizing curator Wendy A. Cooper with the assistance of Tara L. Gleason and Katherine A. John. There are chapters devoted both to specific time periods and themes featuring the premier collection of decorative arts at Winterthur. The catalogue also includes an introductory essay on the history of Winterthur and its collections by Leslie Greene Bowman, director of Winterthur. This fully illustrated, 214-page catalogue with color reproductions is available at the MIA shop for $35. -- www.artsmia.org