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Upcoming Winterthur Exhibit Celebrates 19th-Century America

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“Lasting Impressions: The Artists of Currier & Ives” is an exhibition of sought-after works that will explore the role of Frances “Fanny” Bond Palmer (1812–1876) and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819-1905), two of the most prolific artists for the iconic publisher of Christmas cards and Americana. See it at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library Sept. 17–Jan. 8.

Perhaps best known today for their enchanting Christmas cards, Currier & Ives became synonymous with idealized images of 19th-century American home life. From its establishment in 1834, Currier & Ives created and mass-distributed for the first time colorful lithographs that ordinary citizens could display in their homes. The firm eventually produced more than one million lithographs with 7,500 titles. Its work is widely regarded as one of the greatest pictorial recordings of 19th-century America. “Nathaniel Currier and his partner, James Merritt Ives, forever changed the American landscape by mass producing inexpensive lithographs and selling millions of copies that were joyfully displayed in homes, businesses, public buildings, and more,” says J. Thomas Savage, Winterthur director of museum affairs. “Winterthur is delighted to exhibit these carefully curated, treasured Currier & Ives prints from our collection, along with many stunning works generously loaned to Winterthur.”

Through the more than 40 selected works of art along and through multimedia installations, “Lasting Impressions” will explore the work of Palmer and Tait in an art world where both artist and publisher invited Americans to reconsider their notions of artistic creation. Among the many recognizable works that will be on display are “A Race for the Buckhorns,” “The Lightning Express,” “Leaving the Junction,” “The Buffalo Hunt” and more. “Currier & Ives became synonymous with much more than just art depicting 19th-century life in America. It encapsulated the very idea of the American way of life,” says Stephanie Delamaire, Winterthur associate curator of fine arts, who curated “Lasting Impressions.” “By chronicling the history of the period in their distinctively unique style, their prints have become a touchstone for people everywhere of what it meant to live in ‘white picket fence’ America.”

In association with Currier & Ives, Palmer and Tait produced some of today’s most sought-after prints: the delicately colored Long Island sporting scenes drawn on stone by Palmer from her own sketches, Palmer’s dramatic nocturne landscapes evocative of the era’s fascination with the power of steam on land and water, and Tait’s vibrant depictions of animals observed up-close in the Adirondacks of northern New York. Palmer’s work at Currier & Ives remains significant for her talent and integral role as a designer and artist at the firm. She produced images that have become icons of 19th-century America. Though famous for her picturesque prints, she is perhaps most remarkable as the only woman at the time to have built a career in the field. Palmer and her husband first worked together at F. & S. Palmer lithographers in England. After moving to New York in 1844, she opened her own workshop and worked with Currier & Ives as an independent contractor. When she wasn’t producing prints for Currier & Ives, Palmer trained men in the technique that had brought her so much success. “I think Fanny Palmer was a fascinating artist and woman,” says Delamaire. “She wasn’t just a staff hand or someone implementing the ideas and drawings of others. She created original designs and art, which was quite a rarity for a woman at the time.”

Tait, who emigrated from London to New York in the 1850s, found particular success in reproducing his paintings as lithographs and chromolithographs, a kind of reproduction lithography that involved multiple printing inks and the use of screens to imitate the surface of a painting on paper. Tait established himself through collaborations with Currier & Ives in the production of sporting scenes, as well as animal paintings. In addition to the collection of Palmer and Tait’s prints, “Lasting Impressions” will feature several multimedia installations, including a video documenting the history of Currier & Ives and interactive touch-screens encouraging the viewer to explore conservation findings and physical evidence of the artistic process. As visitors compare their reactions to the exhibition prints and the images on the touch-screens, they will be able to identify traces of the lithographic process and exercise their judgment as instant “connoisseurs” of Currier & Ives prints. “Lasting Impressions” will be a part of Winterthur’s annual Yuletide at Winterthur tour, Nov. 19-Jan. 8.

For more, visit Winterthur.org.

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