Architecture as Muse: The Grand Tour

May 7, 2017–January 31, 2018

Louis Orr, Le Ponte Marie, Paris,, 1942, Etching, 9 3/16 x 7 1/8 inches, Gift of the Alix W. Stanley Estate

In the late 1600s, the "Grand Tour" emerged as a cultural phenomenon, in which young men and women of means traveled abroad as an educational right of passage. Transported by valets and coachmen, and accompanied by chaperones and even cooks, these travelers ventured on pilgrimages through Italy, France, Germany, England, and beyond, gaining cultural exposure and worldly experience they believed could only be obtained in foreign lands.

A tour of such places was also considered essential for ambitious American artists, who sought to enhance their education by studying the art and architecture of Old Masters. Although the lavish trapping of the Grand Tour were often beyond their means, resourceful artists were emboldened to travel in search of art, culture, and the roots of civilization, with the hope of improving and mastering their craft.

For artists of many ilks, architecture represented a pivotal source of fascination throughout their travels, due to the dazzling array of styles and structures they encountered as well as the emotional impact it often inspired. Architecture as Muse: The Grand Tour follows the itinerary of numerous artists, illustrators, and architects throughout Europe and beyond as they recorded the varied architecture of Spain, England, Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico and elsewhere. Frequently sketched on the spot, these works depict architectural subjects ranging from Tudor-style English homes, Italianate towers, cathedrals in France, as well as remnants of classical antiquity. In studying these structures, artists explored basic and complex aspects of composition, such as line, form, volume, color, and tone, as well as atmosphere and mood. Their experiences with the architecture they encountered, whether regal or humble, religious or secular, gave them valuable insights into the history and culture of the lands they visited. The legacy of the Grand Tour lives on and remains evident in the work of artists, architects, and illustrators today.

The exhibition is derived exclusively from the permanent collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art, and includes two centuries of works on paper including prints, watercolors, and drawings by American artists such as Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900), James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), John Marin (1870-1953), William F. Brooks (1872-1950), Keith Miller (b. 1949), among many others.