United greats

"Art of the American West from a Private Collection" — some 52 paintings and sculptures by some of the country’s best-known artists — is on display at the Brandywine River Museum through Nov. 23. It is the first in a trio of shows this fall celebrating the American tradition in art in a collaborative effort called "America Paints."

"American Tableaux: Selections from the Collection of the Walker Art Center" runs at the Delaware Art Museum from Oct. 10 through Jan. 4, and "American Accents 1670-1945: Masterworks from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco" runs at Winterthur from Oct. 11 through Feb. 1.

The "Art of the West" show comes from a private collection and much of the work is not normally available to the public. The show comprises an honor roll of American artists working in the West during the 19th and 20th centuries. Featured are such names as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and N.C. Wyeth.

During much of that discovery of the West, artists played the role of documentarians, providing the growing country a look at the romance and adventure of the West. So while the items certainly present the drama and scale of the West, they also became, for the public, the ideal of the West, which turned into a cycle of life imitating art and then art imitating life and so on.

The collection also includes several late 20th-century painters. Of interest is the work of Howard Terpning, an artist who lives in Tucson, Ariz., in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. His work is sort of a quiet slice-of-life look at American Indians — appropriate enough, as he lives in the land of the Apache.

The subjects will please the entire family with images of cowboys, American Indians, wildlife, mountains, rivers and plains. According to the museum, these artists were known as "expeditionary painters."

"The earliest Western artists traveled thousands of miles into uncharted territory and, like the trappers and traders of the period, they experienced danger and adventure firsthand."

"American Tableaux" at the Delaware Art Museum is an ambitious show that seeks to present the narrative tradition of American art. It includes more than 70 paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs and films by 40 artists from the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The work extends from the early 20th century through the present, and includes Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louis Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Charles Sheeler and George Segal. In fact, Segal provides one of the highlights: It is his well-known The Diner (1964-66). Fellow pop artist Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) is also included. It is a 23-foot-long accordion-fold photo book.

Advance notice from the museum says the show will be arranged around the "concepts of home, the road, the city, social politics, gender and sexual identity." Despite the overwhelming nature of the American experience and the thousands of variations of that experience, the exhibition mindful of "our country’s heterogeneous population" still looks to come to grips with the term "American."

Whatever the curatorial concept behind the exhibition, the Walker collections are exceptional and the art should stand by itself. A number of public programs, tours, workshops and a film series will accompany the show.

The third leg of the tripod is the biggest and celebrates the collections of the museums of San Francisco and especially the donations of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3d.

"American Accents, 1670-1945" is a $15 ticket but contains all of the ingredients of a blockbuster. The show at the Winterthur Museum offers a comprehensive overview of more than three centuries of American art, from the colonial period through World War II.

The collection is traveling as the De Young Museum in San Francisco is being rehabilitated after the 1989 earthquake. More than 86 works will be shown (42 donated by the Rockefellers), and they include giants of the American canon with such painters as Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Horace Pippin.

From the advance press notice: "The paintings range from portraits and still-lifes to landscapes and seascapes. Many of the works, such as Charles Willson Peale’s Self-Portrait of 1822 and George Caleb Bingham’s 1846 Boatman on the Missouri, are icons of American art. The oldest and rarest work in the exhibition, The Mission Children: David, Joanna and Abigail by Boston’s Freake-Gibbs Painter, is one of only 35 surviving American paintings of the 17th century."

Art of the American West
from a Private Collection
Brandywine River Museum
Routes 1 and 100, Chadds Ford
Through Nov. 23
Museum admission: $5 adults, $2.50 seniors and students, free for children under 6

American Tableaux:
Selections from the Collection of the Walker Art Center
Delaware Art Museum
First USA Riverfront Arts Center
800 S. Madison St.
Wilmington, Del.
(temporary location)
Oct. 10-Jan. 4
Museum admission: $7 general, $5 over 60, $2.50 students and under 6

American Accents, 1670-1945:
Masterworks from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
Route 52, just south of Chadds Ford
Winterthur, Del.
Oct. 11-Feb. 1
Museum admission: $10 adults, $8 seniors and students, $4 ages 5-11