Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg Presents Romantics to Moderns A Survey of British Watercolors and Drawings from the Collection of BNY Mellon

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg presents Romantics to Moderns: A Survey of British Watercolors and Drawings from the Collection of BNY Mellon on view January 22 – May 1, 2011.

This outstanding exhibition features 70 watercolors and drawings by 48 British artists dating from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. Drawn from the prestigious BNY Mellon Collection, Romantics to Moderns represents a veritable survey of British art.

Such a sweeping overview is especially distinguishable in the realm of landscape: from engaging works on paper by such pre-Romantic figures as Gainsborough to those by modernists like Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) of the Bloomsbury Group. An extraordinary highlight is the ethereal Barnard Castle by J. M. W. Turner, a rare find outside museum collections. Likewise, Hampstead, by his rival in landscape John Constable, suggests that artist’s interest in, and almost scientific study of, clouds. Danby’s majestic composition View near Killarney epitomizes Romanticism, while the luminous palette found in Cotman’s striking River Landscape of early 1806 reminds us that numerous practitioners of watercolor in Britain anticipate aspects of French landscape, more precisely the Impressionists. John Nash’s stylized and brilliantly-colored compositions continue the celebration of the British landscape into the modernist era: they convey the impact of French modernism on British artists of the period and are a delightful discovery for those unfamiliar with his work. There are outstanding large-scale watercolors, a number of which are roughly two feet in length, including David Cox’s mysterious Evening of c. 1811. Such works demonstrate the grand scale with which British artists presented their highly finished watercolors, especially those slated for exhibition: Peter DeWint’s nearly three and one half foot view of Lowther Castle is one example. The landscape tradition and interest in pastoral subject matter continues well into the mid 19th century with detailed watercolors, as in a farm scene by Samuel Palmer and a majestic mountain view, Ullswater at Midday, by Alfred William Hunt. One of the 19th century art’s most important figures—and the defender of Turner—the critic John Ruskin is represented by two watercolors, including an exuberant view of Venice.

Begun in 1980 at the encouragement of the collector and philanthropist Paul Mellon, the British watercolors and drawings in BNY Mellon’s collection represent more than three decades of building and refining, an eloquent extension of the Mellon Family legacy in art and culture. That legacy includes generous gifts to the National Gallery of Art, the Virginia Museum of Art, as well as the establishment of the Yale Center for British Art and the London Center for British Studies in the History of Art. The Museum of Fine Arts has featured numerous exhibitions of French art of the 18th to early 20th centuries, but this is the first one solely devoted to British art of the same era.

Image: John Nash British (1893-1977) Threshing, c.1914 Crayon, ink, and watercolor on paper Collection of BNY Mellon

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