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New York Accents: The New York Influence on Telfair’s Collections

Telfair Academy June 7, 2013 - July 6, 2014

Telfair Museums is pleased to present a major exhibition exploring the rich influence of New York on its permanent collection. New York Accents will include dozens of decorative and fine art objects from Telfair Museums’ permanent collection dating from the early 19th century to the present.

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New York held a particular fascination for Savannah and the Telfair family in the 19th century. Mary Telfair was educated in New York, and she and her family traveled there frequently to visit friends and participate in the New York social season. Much of their furniture and decorative arts collection was purchased in New York, as was the fashion among their Southern contemporaries, including the Richardson, Owens, Phillips, Scarbrough/Barnsley, and Hardee families. In addition to items owned by these Savannah families, the museum has received donations and purchased other 19th-century objects made in the state of New York. Combined, the Telfair’s holdings offer both a glimpse into Savannah’s past tastes, as well as a showing of furniture and furnishings created in one of the most important design centers of 19th-century America. Featured works will include tables, chairs, sofas, a sideboard, mirror, window seats, center table, and silver. Objects will be displayed both within the exhibition galleries, as well as identified throughout the period rooms in the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House.

Alongside the featured 19th-century decorative arts, the exhibition will display paintings of the same era from the permanent collection. For example, the portrait of Savannah businessman Samuel Palmer, c. 1832-37, portrays the work of Samuel F. B. Morse, the founder of the National Academy of Design in New York City. An early 19th century painting of Catharine Littlefield Greene Miller, c. 1809, by James Frothingham, depicts the work of another member of the National Academy of Design. Miller, once married to the famed Revolutionary hero Nathanael Greene, owned Mulberry Grove, the plantation where Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin.

Many of the Telfair’s collection strengths have a strong connection to New York, including examples from the museum’s important American Impressionism and Ashcan School holdings. Highlights will include Childe Hassam’s Avenue of the Allies (1917) and Brooklyn Bridge in Winter (1904), and Ernest Lawson’s Stuyvesant Park in Winter (c. 1907). The show will also feature George Bellows’ Snow-Capped River of 1911, which depicts a view of the Hudson River and the Palisades from Manhattan’s Riverside Park and is one of the Telfair’s most significant and beloved paintings. This painting has spent the past year on view in New York, Washington, and London as part of the major George Bellows retrospective organized by the National Gallery, and will enjoy an exciting homecoming as a centerpiece of the New York Accents. Many of the works included in this section were acquired for the museum by fine arts advisor Gari Melchers, best known for his work as an expatriate artist in Holland, but who maintained a studio and professional affiliations in New York throughout his career.

The twentieth-century portion of the exhibition includes a selection of works representing the exchange of ideas between Savannah and New York. Included are Savannahians Christopher A.D. Murphy, Augusta Oelschig and Luther Vann, who worked in New York in the 1920s, 50s and 40s-80s respectively. Also highlighted are New York-based artists who worked in Savannah over extended periods of time, such as Alexander Brook and William Scharf. Post-World War II artists working in New York are represented in a group of works from the collection by abstract expressionists James Brooks, Conrad Marca-Relli, and Elaine de Kooning. The exhibition also represents major artists working in New York in recent decades–including Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein. Works by these artists and other notables were given to the museum in honor of Museum of Modern Art curator and Savannah native Kirk Varnedoe in 2006. The exhibition concludes with visiting artists of recent years who have worked with the Telfair, among them Tim Rollins and new media artist Daniel Shiffman.

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Childe Hassam; Brooklyn Bridge in Winter, 1904; Oil on canvas; Museum Purchase, 1907

Jerome Myers (American, 1867-1940); The Calico Sellers, 1909; Oil on canvas; 16 1/16 x 21 13/16 in. Museum purchase, 1921.2