Americans In Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820–1920 at the Milwaukee Art Museum

During my study of American art history, most of the better known American artists made visits to Europe to study. It seems that they almost always visited London where a number of ex-pat artists made them welcome. And they almost always made it to Paris which was certainly the center of Western art at the time. And those wealthy enough or lucky enough to have a generous patron made it to Italy: Florence and Rome!

So I have thought very little about Spain’s influence on American art in general or painting in particular. So the theme of the current show at the Milwaukee Art Museum created a bit of doubt but then curiosity in my mind. And then Americans In Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820–1920 opened up a different view on Spain’s influences on American artists and it was a very pleasant surprise to find some very well known painters visited Spain and were influenced by the art, architecture, landscape, and the overall atmosphere of the place. And although very similar to the rest of Western Europe it is also very different.

Well, what will you see? Portraits and Landscapes and Genre Paintings…and nearly a room full of different views of the Alhambra (one of the most significant architectural sites in Spain from the time of Muslim rule in Medieval era)…and famous American artists showing just a little different perspective on their vision. Who exactly? Well; Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, James McNeill Whistler, and Robert Henri.

One thing you will notice about the epic landscapes is a sense of a much hotter brighter sun. The landscape lacks the lushness and greens and twinkle of many of the landscapes that we we are used to seeing in America or from France. Here the sun burns and the landscape takes on a bright ocher with hints of oranges, reds, and browns. It is quite striking and particularly revealing in some of the paintings of the Alhambra.

The portraits tend to be just a little more towards the realistic side given the influences of earlier Spanish portraiture. And the streetscapes and genre paintings are also bright…often more to the bright white of sunlight and it is apparent that the dress and customs of Spain seemed exotic to Americans in the nineteenth century as they may seem today (particularly the appeal of dancers…there is a room of paintings of Spanish dancers by an array of artists…and one in particular took on the role of muse).

So enough chatter…here are a few of my favorites. I apologize for some of the image quality. I was using my phone and I have a tendency to get a little wobbly. But I will put up a number of each type of painting if they’ll display cleaning…and there will be one extra surprise at the end.

William Merritt Chase: Girl in White; 1898 – 1901
Carrie Hill; View of Segovia; ca: 1925
John Singer Sargent; Hex Wood, Majorca; 1908
Elizabeth Boott; The Alhambra; 1881
Childe Hassam; Plaza de la Merced, Ronda; 1910
John Ferguson Weir: detail from The Alhambra, Granada, Spain: ca. 1901
Edwin Lord Weeks; Interior of a Mosque at Cordova; ca. 1880
El Greco: Saint Catherine; 1610 – 1614

Yes, I know he’s not American but he’s not Spanish either! And who can resist an El Greco!

So if you are interested in seeing this show, it is at the Milwaukee Art Museum through October 3, 2021. Due to continued pandemic concerns advance timed tickets are recommended and available…so check out that information here: Americans in Spain!

I plan to visit it again before it closes…so maybe I’ll see you there!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.