The American Medium

Once considered a medium best suited to amateur artists or preliminary sketches, watercolor painting developed into a significant force in American art during the second half of the 19th century. By the turn of the century, watercolor painting had reached such a high level of popularity that many critics proclaimed it the “American Medium.”

Thomas Moran American (1837-1926)
Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, ca. 1875
Watercolor on paper board
Gift of Mr. Hugh Gordon Miller

Working in a wide range of styles and motifs, amateur and professional artists produced watercolors of technical brilliance and captivating beauty that pushed the boundaries of the medium and positioned watercolor at the leading edges of American art.

Charles Ephraim Burchfield (American, 1893−1967)
Watering Time, 1921
Watercolor and gouache on paper, mounted on board
Chrysler Museum of Art, gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., 71.626

On view at the Chrysler Museum of Art through June 23, 2019, “Watercolor: An American Medium” presents a survey of the heights of the American watercolor movement from around 1870– to 1940 and reveals a deeper appreciation of watercolor’s central place in the larger history of American art. Many artists who achieved great fame for their paintings in oil such as John Singer Sargent, Thomas Moran, and John La Farge also devoted considerable attention to watercolors, producing some of their most spectacular and enduring efforts within this medium. Through the twentieth century, leading artists like Charles Demuth, John Marin, Maurice Prendergast, and Marguerite Zorach continued to embrace watercolor, which played a pivotal role in the progress of American modernism.

Charles Demuth (American, 1883−1935)
Pansies, 1915
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Chrysler Museum of Art, gift of an anonymous donor, 80.225

Drawn from the Chrysler Museum of Art’s holdings of works on paper as well as Hampton Roads collections, the exhibition features more than 35 watercolors, which represent the broad set of styles, subjects, and artists that comprised this important chapter of American art.

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