American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life (also known by the French title New Frontier IV: Fastes et fragments. Aux origines de la nature morte américaine) explored how late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American artists adapted European still-life tradition to American taste, character, and experience. The culminating presentation of the American Encounters series—co-organized by the musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art—The Simple Pleasures of Still Life followed previous installations examining important genres in American art, including portraiture, landscape, and genre paintings. +
Though a centuries-old tradition in Europe, still-life painting was slow to take hold in the US, increasing in popularity over the course of the 19th century, an era of remarkable political, economic and social transformation. The subjects depicted in American still lifes evolved throughout these decades, drawing on and expanding the traditions of Dutch-style tabletops laden with fruits and vegetables and ornate French bouquet arrangements in the selection, arrangement and depiction of objects imbued with New World symbolism. As the country became more cosmopolitan, a result of its growing industrial and economic power, art patronage in the Gilded Age increasingly focused on the representation of wealth in pictures of exotic objects popular among the upper classes. The subjects of still-life painting during this period served as evocative emblems—whether of regional identity, moral values or eclectic collecting—and reflect the story of an evolving nation.
The ten masterpieces in the The Simple Pleasures of Still Life speak to the diversity of the still-life genre in the US and range from works by artists De Scott Evans, Martin Johnson Heade, Joseph Biays Ord, William Sidney Mount, and Raphaelle Peale to trompe l’oeil masterworks by John Haberle, William Michael Harnett, and George Cope. Two paintings by John-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Abraham Mignon demonstrate the European examples frequently emulated by American artists first experimenting with still life in the early 1800s. The presentation at the High was supplemented with four additional paintings drawn from the museum’s extensive holdings in American art, including works by William Mason Brown, Joseph Decker, and John Frederick Peto.
Dates & Venues
Works of Art from the Terra Foundation Collection
- Martin Johnson Heade, Still Life with Apple Blossoms in a Nautilus Shell, 1870
- William Sidney Mount, Fruit Piece: Apples on Tin Cups, 1864
Mayer Heydt, Stephanie. American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
- Press release
- Blog post: “‘Growing Up’ with American Encounters,” May 6, 2015
- Blog post: “American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life, Part I,” May 11, 2015
- Blog post: Manuela Welloffman, “American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life, Part II,” May 16, 2015
- Blog post: Linda Deberry, “The Secret Language of Still Life,” June 10, 2015