Main Exhibit

Seeing Nature:
Selections from 1880 to 2013

Seeing Nature: Selections from 1880 to 2013 includes early Rhode Island painters of the 1880’s who excelled in the aesthetics of the Barbizon school. Many Providence painters embraced a new radical approach to landscape paintings advocated by the French artist, Jean Francois Millet (1814 - 1875) who rejected popular academic and topographical painting of the land. Artists migrated out of the studio to nearby forests and fields to experience the dense woods, dirt paths and filtered sunlight. Both local artists Thomas Robinson (1834-1888) and George Whitaker (1841 - 1916) had first hand experience in the French forest of Fontainebleau, the mecca for Barbizon artists, painting the pleasures of nature and bringing those ideas back to fellow artists in Providence and Boston.

By the early 20th century the dark and mysterious forests of the 19th century give way to a broader perspective of light, weather, atmosphere and terrain. Elijah Baxter (1849 - 1935), Horace Burdick (1844 - 1942) and later Arthur Douglas (1860 - 1949) continued the “en plein air” (in the open air) approach but looked for a viewpoint often capturing the milky blue skies colliding with the rugged brown fields and hills of New England. Additionally, these artists often chose the genteel media of watercolor to capture their intimate natural surroundings.

New England printmakers, like German emigrant Koehler-Bittkow (1887 - 1964) nurtured in the expressionist traditions of her heritage, were bent on capturing the direct, expressive elements of the land. While native Americans, Lester Hornby (1882 - 1956) and Grace Albee (1890 - 1956) perfected the etching and wood engraving media to seek the highly descriptive and detailed aspect of nature.

The later 20th century talent, Florence Leif (1913 - 1968) graduated from the American realist tradition of Provincetown landscapes in the 1940’s to the brooding amorphous shapes and forms of Belgrade Lake, Maine by the 1960’s. Visitors will see in her work vigor and creativity that comes with the direct application of local color in broad and spontaneous brushwork.

For other artists on exhibit, there is a concentration on the flora and fauna of the land. Louise Marianetti (1916 - 2009) is attracted to painting the decaying elements of earth. Then a selection of contemporary artists break loose and concentrate on specific elements in nature for Kenn Spesier it is the undulating texture of a leaf and for Kathy Hodge the microscopic examination of a bee and beetle.

Other contemporaries round out the exhibit such as Robert Thornton who delights in the texture, playfulness and lushness of plants, animals and space. While Paula Martiesian is endlessly loss in the terrain of her Halsey Street backyard, painting the seasonal variety of plants and forms.