By Sally Cohen
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia’s premier institution for interpreting the art and culture of the Philadelphia region, opened five new exhibitions earlier this month along with a full calendar of engaging programs, including children’s activities and lectures. The museum has also introduced new visiting hours including extended evening and weekend hours.
Woodmere is currently presenting two exhibitions in conjunction with the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. The first is “Charles Demuth in the City of Lights,” second is “Violet Oakley and the Women Artists of Paris,” which offers an intimate look at the Mt. Airy illustrator, muralist and stained glass artist. Both exhibits will continue through June 26.
Visitors to the Woodmere will also gain a fresh perspective on the museum through three new exhibitions showcasing objects from the permanent collection, including an exhibition of Impressionist and landscape paintings of Pennsylvania, a second exhibition exploring the murals of Violet Oakley (on view for the first time since receiving conservation work) and an exhibition of objects from the personal collection of museum founder Charles Knox Smith.
In addition to these exhibitions, the Woodmere is offering family programming, lectures and gallery talks, specialty tours, instructional art classes and workshops, and other special events. William R. Valerio, who was appointed as the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of Woodmere in September, 2010, has placed more of the Woodmere’s permanent collection on public view than ever before. Valerio came to the Woodmere from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he served as Assistant Director for Administration.
Woodmere recently renovated the grand Kuch Gallery, the rotunda-like space which houses major exhibitions, as well as the Founders Gallery and Parlor Gallery. In the coming year, Woodmere will continue to improve the museum interior and outdoor landscape.
The American modernist painter Charles H. Demuth (1883–1935), whose works are in the Antonelli 1 Gallery, is one of America’s greatest artists of the 20th century. Primarily a watercolorist, Demuth also painted with oils during his career and later became a prominent Precisionist painter, a style of painting which combines realism and geometric planes. The exhibition “Charles Demuth in the City of Lights,” presented in collaboration with The Demuth Museum in Lancaster, traces Demuth’s adventures in Paris, showing how this great American artist of Pennsylvania came to find his unique voice.
• Charles Demuth was born and raised in Lancaster and lived much of his life in southeastern Pennsylvania. After finishing his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Demuth embarked on the first of several trips to Paris in 1907. This was a fortuitous year for Demuth as he would see a retrospective of the work of Paul Cézanne, an exhibit that influenced many major figures of the burgeoning modernist movement, including Demuth.
“His mind … was greatly broadened by travel,” wrote Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Helen Henderson in 1947. “He discovered in himself a kinship with the original thinkers, the exotics, if you will, of his day in France — Baudelaire, Huysmans, Gautier, Toulouse Lautrec, Henry James, and later Proust. He was abundantly curious in the French sense of the word and investigated and followed up every clue that led to the revelation of the spirit of his time.” (An audio tour of the exhibit is available, accessible by a cell phone call-in system.)
• Violet Oakley (1874–1961), whose works are exhibited in the Antonelli II Gallery, was born to an artistic family in Bergen Heights, New Jersey, relocated to Philadelphia in 1895 and later settled in Mt. Airy. During her lifetime, Oakley became one of the great citizen artists of Philadelphia, a supporter of the city’s artists, a popular and well-spoken civic leader and internationally known pacifist. She was also a driving force in the life of the Woodmere Art Museum and constant support to her partner, Edith Emerson, who was Woodmere’s director from 1940 through 1978.
In 1893, Oakley’s journey of professional education in the arts began when she enrolled as a student at the Art Students League in Manhattan. A year later, Oakley, who was only 20 years old, decided to travel to Paris, the art capital of the world. In the company of some of the finest artists of the time in Paris’ schools, museums and exhibition spaces, she would encounter and be influenced by Impressionism, a revolutionary movement in 19th-century painting. She would most certainly see the work of two of its leading practitioners, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt (also a former Philadelphian).
The exhibition features the works created by Oakley during this time, and a sample of works by artists she encountered in Paris including: Mary Cassatt’s “The Pink Sash” (c. 1898), in which the artist’s virtuosity with pastel is abundantly evident; Cecilia Beaux’s society painting, “Portrait of Hannah Rose Hoffman Lee” (1893); and Berthe Morisot’s “The Drawing Lesson” (1888), a self-portrait with the artist’s daughter, Julie Manet.
There will also be a lecture, “After Paris: Demuth and His Circle in America,” on Sunday, May 1, 2 to 3 p.m. ($15, $12 for members), with Mark D. Mitchell, Associate Curator of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art. New museum hours are: Tuesday through Thursday 10 to 5; Friday, 10 to 8:45; Saturday 10 to 6, and Sunday, 10 to 5. Woodmere is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. For visitor information, call 215-247-0476 or visit www.woodmereartmuseum.org.