On August 17, 2018, the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) opens Americans Abroad, 1860-1915, an exhibition of watercolors, prints, and paintings by American artists who travelled to Europe for training and inspiration in the late 19th century. The exhibition of 24 works by artists such as Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, draws from the PMA collection and special loans, and includes rarely seen watercolors by John Singer Sargent, Maurice Prendergast, and more.
In the decades around 1900, American artists went to Europe in droves, seeking training, inspiration, and patronage in the continent’s grand cities and rural enclaves. From Winslow Homer and James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Florence Robinson and Frederick MacMonnies, these artists reveled in famed art havens such as Paris, London, and Venice. They also explored the varied landscapes and villages from the Southern Alps to England’s Northern Coast. Traversing the continent, they honed their formal techniques across media and benefited from the new opportunities for travel and communication that modernity offered.
These American artists experienced Europe in distinct ways. Many settled in Paris or London, where Whistler and Mary Cassatt worked among the international avant garde while MacMonnies established himself at the more traditional Salon. Homer made extended trips to France and England, and John Singer Sargent passed the majority of his life travelling broadly across the continent. Like many artists based in Europe, including Edwin Lord Weeks and Henry Ossawa Tanner, Sargent extended his travel to sites in North Africa and the Middle East, many of which were under European colonial control in these years.
Regardless of the diverse itineraries and experiences, American artists working abroad continually examined the importance of place, focusing on architecture, customs, and the unique qualities of light and landscape. Whether exhibited in Europe or at home, their paintings, sculptures, prints, and watercolors made a lasting impact on the transatlantic story of American art.
This exhibition is in loving memory of Peggy L. Osher, former PMA Trustee and loyal friend to the museum.