By David Rogers. October 3, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Back in the day, when I was studying at what is now Claremont McKenna College, I enrolled in an art history class taught by Dez Farnady. He was the Claremont’s swim coach, but more important to this report he was the first person I met claiming to be any kind of an expert on fine art. “Squint your eyes,” I remember Dr. Farnady telling our class when we had finally arrived at a discussion of Impressionism, “and you won’t see the blur.”
COVER IMAGE: “Portrait of John Leslie Breck,” by James Carol Beckwith, 1891, in National Gallery of Art. This is a photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News, from a slideshow presentation by Dr. John Stuhlman on Oct. 2, 2016 at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum.
Perhaps more than any other artistic period we studied during that survey class, Impressionism is the one that stuck foremost in my mind. We had gone through a lot of historical art periods and movements, from the Stone Age to Egyptian, Byzantine, and the Middle Ages. And of course we had already studied the Renaissance period when Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo and the like brought a certain amount of realism to the human form (which was woefully, even somewhat crudely depicted in earlier artistic periods). We had gone through Mannerism of the 1500s: “…art that broke the rules.” And of course we had seen Baroque, Neoclassical, Romanticism, and Realism.
And then we got to Impressionism and Farnady said, “Squint your eyes.”
While the study of artistic painting as the 1800s would soon give way to the 1900s sometimes took on almost factory-like conditions, judging by a depiction by the American painter Jefferson David Chalfant’s Bouguereau’s Studio at the Academie Julien (Paris, 1891), many American artists trekking to France to study the Impressionism style under Monet, Manet, Sisley and Renoir often developed more personal friendships with the French masters, often painting one another as they lived their daily lives.
This week is Blowing Rock Art & History Museum’s birthday and for students of art history — as well as those of us not so dialed in on the difference between Cubism and the Renaissance — Sunday’s opening celebration event, the Alexander Arts Lecture, was not just interesting and educational, but absorbing.
Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, Senior Curator of American, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Mint Museum in Charlotee (NC), was the featured lecturer, presenting a talk and slideshow presentation entitled, “John Leslie Breck and the Birth of American Impressionism.” Dr. Stuhlman explored not just Breck’s work within the context of European and American impressionism, but offered a plethora of insights on the influence of French impressionists like Monet on American painters such as Breck, John Singer Sargent, Dennis MillerBunker, Lila Cabot Perry, Theodore Robinson, Philp Leslie Hale, and others.
This was the fifth Alexander Lecture, a series started by the BRAHM board of trustees in honor of the leadership of Blowing Rock’s Welborn Alexander in getting the museum and its organization launched.
Sunday, Alexander was on hand to introduce his friend, Stuhlman.
“I’ve known John Stuhlman since he arrived at the Mint 10 years ago, when he came there as the American curator,” Alexander offered in his introductory remarks. “I have a detailed fact sheet about John, about his academic background and his role at the Mint, but John has been a friend of ours since he arrived. We have turned to him so many times, asking him to look at a painting that we were thinking about acquiring. Sometimes he has brought things to us and said, ‘You ought to take a look at this.’
“He has visited our home in Blowing Rock dozens of times, as well as visited us in Winston-Salem since we have retired at Arbor Acres,” Alexander added. “We are a great fan of his and the wonderful job he has done at the Mint. It is my distinct pleasure to introduce Dr. Stuhlman — although I am having a hard time with the ‘doctor’ part of that since he got his doctorate. I am so used to calling him ‘John’!”
After the chuckles had died down, Stulhman looked at Alexander and said, “Welborn, nobody needs to call me Dr. Stuhlman. John is fine!”
Stuhlman acknowledged that he has enjoyed watching the Blowing Rock museum evolve and grow, then launched into his talk about Breck, who he noted was a member of the first group of American artists to begin working in the impressionist style. “He is not as well known as some of the bigger names in the field,” said the Mint senior curator, “but I think his work stands up on its own.
“He only lived for 39 years,” Stuhlman recalled for the nearly 40 audience members, “but he was a key figure in the development of impressionism in America.”
Stuhlman went on to provide an overview of th Impressionism art movement of the 19th century, which originated with a group of Paris-based artists coming to prominence in the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. With that historical perspective, he went on to describe the in-country visits of Breck and other American painters of the time who studied in France.
Blowing Rock Art & History Museum’s birthday celebration continues in October with a series of events:
- Wednesday, October 5th, 7:00 pm — Finding Your Way Home: Stories of True-Life Adventures and Mountain Roots
- Thursday, October 6th, 11:00 am — (Scholars & Scones) Blue Ridge Conquistadors: The Story of the Berry Site and the Exploring Joara Foundation
- Thursday, October 13th, 7:00 pm — Down In The Willow Garden: Scary Appalachian Stories and Ballads for Halloween
- Tuesday, October 18th, 11:00 am — Coffee With The Curator: Cherokee Carvers