he art accumulated by Bank of America represents a very important collection of works, valued for its diversity and depth. As Bank of America expanded its network, embracing new banks and new cultures, the art holdings of those banks added to the breadth of the existing pieces. The selection of 130 works in the traveling exhibition “Transcending Vision: American Impressionism 1870–1940” has been distilled to 84 works by more than 70 artists, with a bit of emphasis toward artists living and working in this region. The resulting exhibition is called “American Visions: 1870–1940, Works from the Bank of America Collection” and it’s stunningly beautiful. Recently, I had a chance to join Montclair Art Museum’s (MAM) Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky on a tour through the special exhibition galleries that included Bank of America’s New Jersey State President Bob Doherty.
In response to a question of a guest on the tour, Ms. Stavitsky put each piece in perspective, explaining how she selected what she wanted from the collection, and how the installations were determined. The question was a good one, considering the scope and breadth of the paintings and the varied styles. For most of us, the inclination might be toward pure chronology, but the scholarship, rather, that goes into the arrangement is formidable. The Hudson River School, the New Hope School, and others are well represented, so if many of the views tickle your recollection, you may have seen some of these views, as the artists saw them, prior to applying brush to canvas.
“American Visions” highlights Western colonies of artists, as well as those in the Northeast, and the painters documented all aspects of work and leisure and all ranges of people. From more abstract impressionism to the more “American” style, which retains some of the solidity of the form within the impression, the works are magnificent. Several times, as we strolled along the tour, I’d turn my head and smile at the way a piece would pierce my heart. The colors and the quality of light among them are simply beautiful. If you don’t have time for a vacation this winter, it’s possible to do city to shore and back again, and see several shores, all in one afternoon.
Special favorites of mine in the exhibition include George Wesley Bellows “The Old Farmyard Toodleums,” which reminds me of the mystical painting of Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage, as they have similar qualities of light; also Clarence K. Chatterton’s Hopper-esque “September Afternoon,” featured in the foyer. John Olson Hammerstad’s “Lake Michigan” takes my breath away. Come visit with me if you want to know more of what I loved about this exhibition, as I’ll be heading back soon.
While you’re there, be sure to visit MAM’s companion exhibition “Work and Leisure in American Art,” which features works from MAM’s permanent collection. This exhibition is made up of 60 works, whose media span photography, sculpture, painting, and other works on paper, exploring work and play in America from the 1700s to today. It’s a brilliant course in the moveable feast of art you’ll enjoy during your visit.
You’ll want to visit “American Visions” several times so start today—it’s only available through June 19. Sundays are a great time, especially as weather warms up, to start your day at MAM and take a meander into Montclair for brunch, or vice versa. Another great way to see it is attend their gala First Thursday evenings, with gourmet food trucks and special docent tours in the gallery. Learn more about First Thursdays and the finest collection of Native American art and new exhibitions at www.montclairartmuseum.org