Offering an unusual angle on interwar art in America, this exhibition is an opportunity to see paintings never before seen in the UK.
The Ashmolean Museum’s major survey of American artists is significant not only for the novel focus it brings to interwar art in the USA, but also for the number of paintings included that have never before been to the UK – 17 of which haven’t previously left the States.
Alongside early works by Georgia O’Keeffe, cityscapes by Edward Hopper and photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston are rare loans such as a painting by E E Cummings, better known for his poetry, and Edward Steichen’s c1920 work Le Tournesol (The Sunflower) – one of the few paintings not destroyed by the artist when he turned to photography and not seen in Europe since being shown in Paris in 1922.
Major pieces by pioneers of American art Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler are also among the ‘iconic pieces’ that ‘deserve to be better known in this country’, according to the director of the Ashmolean, Dr Xa Sturgis.
The exhibition showcases the work of artists wrestling with the development of modern America in the 1920s and 1930s; emotional restraint is a running theme in paintings conspicuously absent of people, with the result tending variously towards anxiety and optimism. This departure from the more familiar fixations of the Roaring Twenties, or the notable works arising from the subsequent Depression, helps also to highlight a driving attempt – evidenced in the 80-plus works on show – to define an authoritative ‘American’ aesthetic at the time.