WILLIAMSTOWN -- Sterling Clark had a passion for collecting works of fine art and over a half century assembled what became the foundation of the permanent collection for the Berkshires museum that bears his name. This summer, the public will share first hand his passion for one of America's most popular artists, Winslow Homer (1836-1910).
Clark Art Institute director Michael Conforti said the exhibition, named "Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History," will showcase the country's largest collection of Homer's work by a single person. He added that Sterling Clark purchased his first Homer painting in 1915 at a time when he was living in Paris and focusing on purchasing Italian Renaissance art.
"Sterling Clark considered Winslow Homer one of the greatest artists of the 19th century," Conforti said, "From that moment on, he maintained a passion for the artist throughout his collecting career, creating an archive so rich and varied that it provides us with a unique foundation upon which to build this consideration of the many sides of Winslow Homer."
On view June 9 through Sept. 8, the exhibition showcases 60 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and etchings, as well as 120 rarely seen wood engravings. Drawing upon the resources of the Clark's own holdings of nearly 250 works by Homer (dating from 1857 to 1904), the exhibition provides a variety of distinctive perspectives.
Exhibition curator Marc Simpson, associate director of the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, and a Homer scholar, said the show will demonstrate the scope of Homer's vision, and emphasize the historical importance of his influence.
"'Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History' is first and foremost an opportunity to see and enjoy the achievement of this great artist," said exhibition curator Marc Simpson.
"Winslow Homer, Making Art, Making History," will feature several visual initiatives meant to enhance the viewer experience. Simpson said that one thing sure to catch the public's attention is the presentation of Homer's watercolors in period appropriate frames without matting. In contemporary practice, this is seen only with oils, he said.
"Original-style frames have an impact in how a painting will present itself," Simpson explained. "Typically we see watercolors with dark frames and big, lighter matting. The pictures then seem to sink back because of that lighter surrounding."
Archival photographs, Simpson continued, indicate that watercolors were not shown that way in Homer's time. He described the decision to go with the frame abutting the picture "a brave thing," in that it would be introduced to an audience more used to seeing them framed with matting.
"Still, this framing will be effective and chronologically correct," Simpson said. "In them, Homer's colors will project their environment rather than sink back."
The other viewing aspect of the exhibition will be in keeping with Homer's belief that his art is best appreciated and understood when being viewed from a distance. Simpson said that to accomplish that, there will be less wall text than one might typically see at a major show.
This is intended, Simpson explained, to keep visitors from being so concerned with approaching the art to read the prose on the wall, and rather stand back to see it as Homer might have intended. He said the hope will be that most viewers back up to 10 feet to take in the paintings.
Breadth of collection
The exhibition also includes wood engravings, designed by Homer for such periodicals as Harper's Weekly and Appleton's Journal. These works illustrate news of the day: the Civil War, the rise of various leisure activities, changing fashions, and the ever-changing role of women in society.
A group of etchings, heliotypes, and chromolithographs by or after Homer will demonstrate the methods by which the artist used to make his art more accessible to the collecting public. The exhibition also features some of Homer's illustrations of popular literature and poetry.
In all, Simpson said the broad selection of work will speak not only to Homer's significant impact as an artist, but also to Sterling Clark's devotion, as a collector, to Homer.
"This will be an astonishing group of materials, meant to emphasize a great sense of gathering," he said. "Sterling Clark was a very wealthy man, and had the resources to back up his admiration of Winslow Homer. Yet in tracing the history of every one of his Homer acquisitions, the thing that will stand out is his humanity - Clark's belief in collection over ego."
"Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History," opens June 9 and runs through Sept. 8 at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Info: Call 413-458-2303 or visit clarkart.edu.