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North Carolina Museum of Art: Highlights of the American Collection

Frederick Carl Frieseke, The Garden Parasol, about 1910, oil on canvas, 57 1/8 x 77 in., NCMA, Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, dedicated in memory of Moussa M. Domit, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art (1974–1980), by the NCMA Board of Trustees

Highlights of the American Collection showcases a selection of some of the finest paintings from the Museum’s American collection. The 19 paintings are arranged thematically, allowing for interesting, often surprising, conversations among works by different artists from different generations.

The show features many of the Museum’s finest works by American artists: John Singleton Copley’s portrayal of the genteel Pepperrell family, Winslow Homer’s celebration of a charmed childhood—Weaning the Calf, Albert Bierstadt’s edenic landscape—Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite, and Frederick Frieseke’s ode to joy and the pure pleasure of color The Garden Parasol.

The exhibition also includes works not often on view, among them Corn Harvest on the Brandywine by N. C. Wyeth, the famed illustrator and father of Andrew Wyeth. Commissioned as a cover for the magazine The Progressive Farmer, the painting honors the seeming timelessness of life in rural America. For a change of season, Willard Metcalf’s idyllic June Pastoral hangs nearby.

The star of the exhibition is the stunning portrait of Sir William Pepperrell (1746–1816) and His Family, one of the true masterpieces by John Singleton Copley, America’s first great artist. The Museum’s conservators have recently completed the first extensive cleaning of this painting—taken off view in July 2005—in 40 years. Cleaning has revealed new details of the composition and restored much of the 18th-century luster to this celebrated portrayal of an American Tory gentleman and his young family.

The Museum’s American Art Gallery was closed in June 2007 to create temporary art storage and a staging area for the upcoming transfer of the permanent collection to the new gallery building. When gallery space became unexpectedly available on the Museum’s Entrance Level, we seized the opportunity to present a selection of 19 American pictures. Anyone who remembers the former American Art Gallery will find this exhibition both familiar and surprising.

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