Part II: American Art, or the art of the contemporary

March 4, 2019 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

John Cotton Dana once wrote: “If we wish for a renaissance of art in America, we must be students and patrons of endeavors, which seem humble, but [which] are, in truth, of the utmost importance.” Consequently, he worked with collectors, donors and trustees, who were interested in the fine arts, and together they put together a remarkable collection of American paintings and sculptures. He was particularly interested in contemporary artists, like Childe Hassam (solo exhibition in 1911), Max Weber (solo exhibition in 1913), Bryson Burroughs (solo exhibition in 1915) and Rudolph Ruzicka (solo exhibition in 1917). He also encouraged his patrons, like Arthur F. Egner, an art collector and the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Mrs. Felix Fuld, another trustee and a major philanthropist, to support him in collecting and exhibiting the works of the living American artists. Egner lent his collection for an exhibition in 1917, and more importantly, Mrs. Fuld made a major donation of paintings and sculptures by contemporary artists, purchased on the advice of Holger Cahill, for the opening of the new building in 1926. Toward the end of his life, Dana asked his staff to develop two exhibitions on American Primitive Painting (1930) and American Folk Sculpture (1931), both of which were part of a national trend later championed by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who was also advised by Holger Cahill before he became the head of the Federal Arts Project for the Works Progress Administration.

1917 Ruzicka 809

The Wood-Engravings of Rudolph Ruzicka, 1917.

Currently, the American art collection is displayed on two floors in the North Wing of the Museum’s complex. Native Artists of North America showcases an exciting selection of works by Native Americans and places them in the broader context of American art. A new publication, Seeing America: Native Artists of North America, highlights this collection. It is followed by important Colonial and Federal portraits, a superb collection of Hudson River landscape, along with Western landscape paintings, and American Impressionist and Modernist paintings. Hiram Powers’ The Greek Slave is probably the most iconic of the many 19th-century American sculptures that are also represented in the collection.

1927 Living American Artists 3757

Living American Artists, 1927.

With the support of a major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Newark Museum is reopening its modern and contemporary American art galleries this month. In addition to new, versatile spaces, this effort includes a complete overhaul of our interpretive framework, including many new gallery concepts and objects that have not been seen before in our galleries. Covering a diversity of media from painting to sculpture, and from photography to video art, the 20th and 21st centuries are represented by multiple genres, such as realism, modernism, abstract expressionism, pop art, conceptual art, and many others. Another publication, Seeing Amercia: The Arc of Abstraction, focuses on this aspect of the Newark Museum’s remarkable collection.

1926 Recent American Paintings

Recent American Paintings, or, Paintings by American Artists of Today shown at the opening of the Newark Museum, 1926, with the name of the artists exhibited writing by hand on the cover.


Seeing America, the thematic title for the American art galleries, emphasizes that this nation, forged out of many diverse traditions and lifestyles and striving to live up to its democratic ideas, has always encouraged its artists and makers to engage in a process of self-reflection and self-reinvention. It also encourages the visitors to see American art from a broader perspective, incorporating the arts of Indigenous Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants from around the world, and many others.


Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave, 1847. Gift of Franklin Murphy, Jr., 1926. 26.2755.

A visit to the American art galleries is always thought-provoking and inspiring. How it fits into the overall history of the Newark Museum is part of the theme of the exhibition, Promoting Books and Objects: Empowering Newarkers, which is on view on the third floor of the Newark Public Library from January 15 until August 31, 2019.

William A. Peniston, Ph.D., Librarian/Archivist


Kay WalkingStick, Me and My Neon Box, 1971. Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 60 in. Purchase 2018 Helen McMahon Brady Cutting Fund. 2018.17

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

The Newark Museum @ 110 Part I: Dana on Libraries and Museums The Newark Museum @ 110 Part III: The Industrial, Applied, and Decorative Arts

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March 2019


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