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American Paintings

We hover over the bottle-green surface of a river as it rushes toward a horseshoe-shaped waterfall that curves away from us in this horizontal landscape painting. The water is white and frothy right in front of us, where the shelf of the riverbed changes levels near the edge of the falls. Across from us, the water is also white where it falls over the edge. A thin, broken rainbow glints in the mist near the upper left corner of the painting and continues its arc farther down, between the falls. The horizon line is just over halfway up the composition. Plum-purple clouds sweep into the composition at the upper corners against a lavender-colored sky. Tiny trees and a few buildings line the shoreline to the left and right in the deep distance.

Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.79.10

In 2014 the National Gallery of Art assumed stewardship of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s world-renowned art collection, including a number of iconic paintings by American artists. The addition of these masterworks to the National Gallery’s historic American collection was transformative, allowing for an enriched and enhanced presentation of the history of American painting in the permanent collection galleries.

The integration of works from the Corcoran Collection begins in gallery 60A with John Neagle’s portrait of Richard Mentor Johnson (1843). Two additional early American portraits, Joseph Blackburn’s Portrait of a Gentleman (c. 1760) and John Singleton Copley’s Thomas Amory II
(c. 1770–1772), follow in gallery 62 where Samuel Finley Breese Morse’s monumental history painting The House of Representatives (1822) also hangs.

In a verdant green landscape, a stone castle sits on a tree-lined hill in the distance in front of a high, craggy mountain peak while eighteen armored knights ride toward us along a bridge and path in this horizontal painting. The people whose faces we can see have pale skin. The knights are small in scale within the vast landscape, and they all hold long spears. Their procession is led by a knight on a white horse, which wears a gold bridle and lattice-like blanket. That knight has a ruby-red cloak over his armor, and his helmet has a red feathered plume. The other knights wear cloaks in tan, pale pink, or red, and some of their horses are covered with light brown blankets. Near the lower left corner, the path they ride on passes behind a tall, narrow plinth. The faces of the plinth are carved with pointed arches under ornate molding. A person atop the pointed, roof-like top of the structure stands facing away from us, wearing a robe. A gold halo is affixed to her head over long hair, and we see the small head of a baby over one crooked elbow. Near the base of the plinth, the horse at the head of the procession shies away from a man who stands to the side of the road a little farther along, near the bottom center of the painting. That man has a long white beard, and the brim of his hat is pushed back over his forehead, possibly pinned to the crown of the hat. He wears a loose brown robe and sandals, and a satchel is tied around his waist. He holds up one hand, palm out, toward the knights as he looks in their direction, facing our left in profile. In the other hand, he supports a tall staff with a knob at the center and a palm frond tied to the top. In that hand, he also holds a cross hanging from a string of red beads. As the path continues to our right, it passes an arched, free-standing structure, which has a fountain on the side facing us. A man holding a curved staff and a woman, both wearing togas, stand near the structure, looking at each other. On our side of the structure, a goat walks toward the fountain. A river extends behind the structure, back across the composition, and under the bridge leading from the castle. Tall or craggy trees grow along the side of the path as it winds into the distance to our left, and over the hill that rises to the crenelated castle complex. Touches of white and tan suggest people lining the walls of the castle and the tower over the drawbridge. A flat-topped, grassy butte rises beyond the castle, and a waterfall cascades over the edge near the drawbridge. Steep, hazy mountains rise sharply in the deep distance. Dashes of black paint indicate birds flying over the treetops near the castle, and miniscule white dots on the plateau could be grazing sheep. A town lines a body of water at the foot of the castle in the distance. White sailboats float in the water or are pulled up close to the shoreline. Opalescent white clouds curl up over the mountain top and ring the upper peaks in an otherwise clear, ice-blue sky.

Thomas Cole, The Departure, 1837, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of William Wilson Corcoran), 2014.79.13

Although the Gallery’s Thomas Cole holdings were already exceptional, the collection did not contain an example of his paired paintings. In gallery 64, Cole’s The Departure and The Return (both 1837) now hang with other major works spanning the artist’s career.

Richard Caton Woodville, Waiting for the Stage, 18511851

Richard Caton Woodville, Waiting for the Stage, 1851, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, William A. Clark Fund, and through the gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Lansdell K. Christie and Orme Wilson), 2014.79.36

Four detailed and compelling genre scenes formerly in the Corcoran’s collection hang in gallery 65: Richard Norris Brooke’s A Pastoral Visit (1881), Richard Caton Woodville’s Waiting for the Stage (1851), Frank Blackwell Mayer’s Leisure and Labor (1858), and The Tough Story – Scene in a Country Tavern (1837) by William Sidney Mount. They are joined by George Caleb Bingham's Cottage Scenery (1845), a work that blends genre and landscape, and Charles Bird King’s intriguing trompe-l’oeil still life Poor Artist's Cupboard (c.1815).

The head and shoulders of a cleanshaven, light-skinned man with black hair and a lined face is shown against a dark background in this vertical portrait. His body is angled to our right and he looks in that direction with blue-gray eyes under black brows. His hair is combed loosely back from his face but one lock falls onto his forehead, and it curls around the ear we can see. His prominent cheekbones are lightly flushed over hollow cheeks, which create noticeable shadows. He has a long nose, and his thin pink lips are closed. His forehead, the corners of his eyes, and the areas around his mouth and chin are lined with wrinkles. His black suit jacket has wide rounded lapels over a white buttoned shirt. The collar folds over a black bow tie and the two buttons visible on this shirt shine. Next to his left shoulder, on our right, the artist signed and dated the work with red paint: “G.P.A. Healy 1860.”

George Peter Alexander Healy, Abraham Lincoln, 1860, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.79.22

Gallery 66 is home to Augustus Saint-Gauden's The Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial, a monument to the Union Army's first African American regiment that fought in the Civil War. Two Corcoran Collection paintings sharing this connection to the Civil War hang nearby: George Peter Alexander Healy's portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1860), the first portrait for which the President posed following his election, and William MacLeod’s Maryland Heights: Siege of Harpers Ferry.

A view across a wide, brightly lit field scattered with broken pieces of stone is framed to the left and right by crumbling stone temples in this horizontal painting. The sunlight is infused with a soft pink glow, which warms the cream-white stone with a pale blush. The temple on our left sits on a low rise, and a row of at least nine columns topped with an entablature faces our right. Several of the columns are broken off, and part of the entablature and the entire roof is missing, from what we can see. Fragments of pediments and wheel-like sections of columns tumble down from its front steps and back along its side, cascading into and across most of the field before us. The rocky terrain is carpeted in celery-green growth speckled with sage green and areas of rust red in the lower left and right corners. Barely visible in the center of the field, are two men, barely taller than the fragments they inspect. One man wears an apricot-orange suit and bowler hat over blond hair. He kneels with his back to us as he writes or sketches on a piece of paper. A second man stands to his right, also with his back to us, dressed in a long pleated, white tunic with a red cap, jacket, and knee-high boots. To our right and farther back than the other temple, a brick-red tower stands next to another columned arcade. A third temple there, or perhaps another part of that building complex, has columns carved into the shape of six identical, robed women, facing our left. Beyond the ruins, the field slopes down to a peach-colored plain that ends at a wide, topaz-blue body of water with mountains in the far distance along the low horizon line. A petal-pink haze rises from the water and mountains and almost fills the blue-gray sky above. The artist has signed and dated the painting in the lower left, “S.R. Gifford 1880.”

Sanford Robinson Gifford, Ruins of the Parthenon, 1880, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.79.20

In Gallery 67, the integrated works demonstrate how American painters found inspiration in natural landscapes both at home, as with Frederic Church’s magnificent Niagara (1857) and Albert Bierstadt’s Buffalo Trail: The Impending Storm (1869), and abroad, as seen in Church’s tropical view, Tamaca Palms (1854), and Sanford Robinson Gifford’s Ruins of the Parthenon (1880).

A woman with pale, peachy skin and dark brown hair, wearing a long sleeved, floor-length white satin dress, stands facing and looking out at us in a room hung with shimmering, ivory-white drapery in this vertical portrait. The woman’s body is angled slightly to our left and her hair is piled on top of her head. She has dark eyes, a straight nose, and her rose-red lips are closed. She wears pearl earrings, a string of pearls at her throat, and a brooch with two large pearls at her chest. The deep V-neck of her dress is edged with layers of sheer fabric that drapes over her shoulders. Some areas of the dress are loosely painted but gives the impression of lace edging along the collar and bows down the front of the bodice and at the elbows of the half sleeves. The train of the dress bunches around her feet behind her to our left and is either gathered at her left hip, on our right, or her dress has a voluminous bustle there. She holds a partially open fan in her right hand, on our left, and black opera glasses in the other hand, nestled into the bustle. She wears a gold bangle on her left wrist and a glittering blue stone ring on the ring finger of that hand. She stands before a chaise longue—a half chair, half sofa—edged with gold and upholstered with gold fabric. A swath of ivory-colored fabric hangs behind her like a curtain. The artist signed and dated the work in the lower right corner in dark brown paint: “John S. Sargent 1883.”

John Singer Sargent, Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White (Mrs. Henry White), 1883, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of John Campbell White), 2014.136.68

Gallery 68 is largely devoted to the National Gallery of Art’s significant Winslow Homer collection. With the addition of the late coastal scene A Light on the Sea (1897) from the Corcoran, a dozen important works by Homer spanning five decades of his prolific and varied career are on view. James McNeill Whistler’s atmospheric river scene Battersea Reach (c. 1863), also from the Corcoran, hangs nearby.

Joining a suite of powerful portraits in gallery 69 are Thomas Eakins’s evocative Singing a Pathetic Song (1881) and John Singer Sargent’s regal likeness of Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White (Mrs. Henry White) (1883).

A sunlit bowl of pale and deep pink flowers sits on a white curtain draped over the sill of an open window in this vertical still life painting. The sill comes about a third of the way up the composition, and the open window and landscape beyond fills the top two-thirds. Shell-pink and ruby-red flowers with pine-green leaves fill the shallow, slate-gray bowl. Sunshine highlights one white flower and one blush-pink flower, perhaps roses. The white curtain falls over the right half of the window and pools on the sill before draping down and off the bottom edge of the composition. Sunlight dapples the curtain and the surface of the sill, and the paneling of the wall below the window is white. A tawny-brown path winds through a pale green lawn and around an ivory-colored house in the landscape seen through the window. The sky turns from silvery blue above to light mauve pink around trees lining the horizon in the distance.

John La Farge, Flowers on a Window Ledge, c. 1861, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Anna E. Clark Fund), 2014.79.25

Two additional paintings by Sargent, the fishing village scene En route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish) (1878) and Simplon Pass (1911), a vibrant mountain view, hang in gallery 70 alongside John La Farge’s quiet still life Flowers on a Window Ledge (c. 1861) and Abbott Handerson Thayer’s luminous Mount Monadnock (1911/1914), all formerly in the Corcoran Collection.

From a snowy bank, we look across a river that curves from the lower left corner of the painting in a backwards C shape toward a cluster of butter-yellow and peanut-brown buildings in the distance in this almost square landscape. The scene is loosely painted with visible brushstrokes throughout. Bare trees, painted with slashes of slate gray and lavender purple, line the bank ahead of us and cluster around and behind the buildings. Along the right edge of the canvas, the trees closest to us reach high into a milky, dove-gray sky that fills the top third of the composition. Bare patches of earth painted in mustard and caramel brown dot the ground directly in front of us and follow the edge of stream as it recedes. On the left, clumps of wheat-colored strokes suggest dried vegetation scattered across the snowy field between us and the buildings. Trees on both sides are sparsely dotted with golden yellow to suggest leaves. Small hills rising beyond the cluster of buildings are covered in more bare trees, dotted with a few evergreens and silhouetted against the gray sky. The tangled branches of a fallen tree in the middle distance jut into the glassy, pewter-gray water, which reflects the gray sky and trees. The artist has signed the painting in the lower right corner, “E W Redfield.”

Edward Willis Redfield, The Mill in Winter, 1921, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.136.16

In Gallery 71, the last of the American painting galleries, Kenyon Cox’s Flying Shadows (1883), Daniel Garber’s April Landscape (1910), Edward Willis Redfield’s The Mill in Winter, (1921), and Willard Leroy Metcalf’s May Night (1906) offer four examples of impressionist landscapes with American subjects. Edmund James Tarbell’s Josephine and Mercie (1908), Gari Melcher’s Penelope (1905), and Daniel Garber’s South Room - Green Street (1920), all feature women subjects (often relatives of the artist) in domestic interiors engaged in activities including reading, sewing, writing, and embroidery.

A young woman with pale skin, dressed in a black and white servant’s uniform, stands reading a book behind a collection of urns, a figurine, and a stationary box arrayed on a tabletop in this vertical painting. Seen from about the hips up, the woman faces our left in profile as she gazes down at the open book in her hands. She has a turned up nose, smooth skin, and her lips are slightly parted over a rounded chin. Her blond hair is pulled up in a bun and she wears a black dress with a wide, white collar and a white apron tied around her waist. A feather duster with a black handle is tucked under her left arm, closer to us, so the dark feathers fan out behind her. She stands in the corner of a room with light tan walls. Between us and the woman and running parallel to the bottom edge of the canvas, a wooden gaming table inlaid with a black and white checkerboard pattern on its top holds five objects. To our left, the hinged lid of a white rectangular box has been opened to reveal ivory-white note cards and envelopes. The inside of the box lid is painted cobalt blue. Next to the box is a white ceramic jar with a rounded body and a flat, dark lid. At the middle of the table and a little closer to us, a brown vase with a tall, inward curving neck sits next to a figurine of a person wearing a blue and pink kimono. Lastly, a white lidded jar painted in blue with a person and a landscape sits to our right. The artist signed and dated the painting in dark, capital letters near the upper left corner: “PAXTON” and “1910.”

William McGregor Paxton, The House Maid, 1910, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.136.11

Many of these intimate paintings, along with William McGregor Paxton’s The House Maid (1910) and Alfred Maurer’s Young Woman in a Kimono (c.1901), also contain elegant still lifes of personal and decorative objects. Two additional portraits from the Corcoran Collection, Frank Weston Benson’s My Daughter (1912) and Cecilia Beaux’s Sita and Sarita (c. 1921), complete the room.

Just west of the East Garden Court, two important Western landscapes by Albert Bierstadt hang in Lobby C: Mount Corcoran (c.1876–1877) and The Last of the Buffalo (1888). A third former Corcoran work, Rembrandt Peale’s enormous portrait Washington before Yorktown (1824), occupies the vestibule near the 7th Street entrance of the West Building’s main floor.

A band of indigenous Americans ride horses toward and through a herd of buffalo, which spreads along a river that winds through plains to mountains in the deep distance in this horizontal landscape painting. The scene is lit with golden light that warms the browns and harvest yellow of the landscape. Several dead or injured buffalo lie across the ground close to us, along with the body of one hunter, barely visible between the bodies of two animals. Just beyond the corpses, one hunter rides a rearing white horse as he lifts a spear lined with feathers high over a charging buffalo to our right of center. Facing away from us, the rider has light brown skin and a feather headdress over long dark hair. He wears a pumpkin-orange loincloth and red and orange bands encircle the ankle, thigh, wrist, and upper arm facing us. Sage-green grass grows in tufts on the dirt ground, which is littered with several animal skulls around the charging buffalo and rider. A smaller buffalo looks on from our left, and a prairie dog pokes its head out of hole in the ground in the lower left corner. A little distance away to our right, along the edge of the canvas, seven hunters gallop into the scene, leaning forward over their horses’ necks. The dozen or so buffalo nearby, as well as a fox and two deer, move away from the hunters, headed to our left. Hundreds of buffalo dot the landscape along the banks of the winding river and some wade in the water. A few trees rise on the plain but the land is mostly flat until it reaches the mountains and cliffs along the horizon, which comes halfway up this composition. Forms along the horizon could be a line of clouds or snow-covered moutains in the deep distance. A few wispy white clouds float across the watery blue sky above. The artist signed the work in the lower right corner: “Albert Bierstadt.”

Albert Bierstadt, The Last of the Buffalo, 1888, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Mary Stewart Bierstadt [Mrs. Albert Bierstadt]), 2014.79.5