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SAM Art: Beauty Bounty & Bierstadt

A Portrait of a Place

Although Albert Bierstadt had not traveled inland into the Washington Territory in 1863, he had amassed the materials he needed to paint a portrait of a place that he could identify as Puget Sound. He had made oil studies of the land forms and Natives he saw along the Columbia River. He had acquired Northwest Coast Native objects, including the examples exhibited here, all of which can be found in Bierstadt’s painting. He also had an extensive library on the early history of America to use for reference—in this case, he appears to have drawn from an illustration in James Gilchrist Swan’s early authoritative study of the region’s topography and people, The Northwest Coast, published in 1857.

 The fine points of the little-known Puget Sound landscape itself were less important to Americans in 1870 than was the fantasized idea of Puget Sound—a storied inland sea that was a gateway to exotic-seeming points of the globe and lands of unknown peoples. In the still primeval wilderness that Bierstadt depicted, the mysterious realm of an ancient class of seafarers and fishermen, Americans might imagine the modern seaport that would soon arise there—and taking pride in their vision and ingenuity, accord Bierstadt a place in history as the artist who made a valuable and pioneering record of the noble past that was a new maritime civilization’s prologue.

Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870, Albert Bierstadt, born Solingen, Prussia, 1830; died New York City, 1902, oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 82 in., Gift of the Friends of American Art at the Seattle Art Museum, with additional funds from the General Acquisition Fund, 2000.70. Photo: Howard Giske. On view starting today (June 30) in Beauty and Bounty: American Art in an Age of Exploration, Special Exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Portrait of Alexander J. Cassatt

As Jessica Penn in Black with White Plumes, The Buffalo Hunt and other paintings from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art return to their home in Arkansas, SAM’s American Art Gallery turns to look at American artists actively expanding their practice beyond paintings in oil.

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SAM’s American Art Library: A Collection of Collectors: Professor David Tatham

An art museum is often fittingly described as “a collection of collectors,” for each is founded on the gifts of magnanimous individuals who loved art and built personal collections that became an invaluable public resource.

The same can be said about library book collections, too—they represent the personal interests of individual readers. This is especially the case with the American art book collection found within the other collections of the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at SAM downtown. The museum’s founding director, Dr. Richard Fuller, took a special interest in building a reference library to enhance public knowledge of the city’s art collection, and his tenure was marked by yearly growth of the book collection in all areas, through purchases, gifts, and exchanges with other libraries. Over the years, the library grew in relationship to the growth of individual curatorial departments, with American art thus little represented, since American art was not actively collected or exhibited at SAM.

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The History in Art History, Part II: How This Painting Came to Seattle!

Recently I blogged about the scant history of the museum’s magnificent painting by Frederic Church, entitled A Country Home, which was a gift to the museum in 1965 from one Mrs. Paul C. Carmichael.  For five years I’ve been wanting to learn more about Mrs. Carmichael and how she came to Seattle and how she came to bring with her her great grandfather’s impressive picture by Church. I’ve been surprisingly lucky in research so many times that I’m now convinced that some strange forces guide our hands as we delve into the past—forces that make sure that lives are never forgotten. The forces directed me to Mrs. Carmichael just last week.

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900), A Country Home, 1854; oil on canvas 32 x 51 in. Gift of Mrs. Paul C. Carmichael, 65.80

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900), A Country Home, 1854; oil on canvas 32 x 51 in. Gift of Mrs. Paul C. Carmichael, 65.80

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