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Amagansett / Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the painters featured in “American Impressionism: Paintings of Light and Life” —an exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York—were masters of mimicry.
Claude Monet, William Merritt Chase, Mary Cassatt and their contemporaries represented a first wave of U.S. artists who took to French Impressionism and made it their own. The first “modern” style to hit Europe and America, Impressionism focused on how changing light manipulated fairly common scenes like beaches, fields and urban areas. The Fenimore instituted a series of exhibits showcasing American art in 2010 with a show on John Singer Sargent, and an Edward Hopper retrospective that followed in 2011. This year’s showcase grew out of a loan of 12 Impressionist paintings from the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York. A handful of other influential museums—including the Parrish Art Museum, in Southampton, New York, and the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts—also lent works, and the 26 featured paintings range from the beginnings of the movement to the 1940s. Plein air sketches, artists’ materials and historic photos help illustrate the techniques even more.
“It is fascinating to explore how this style was adapted by American artists to suit an American audience,” says Dr. Paul D’Ambrosio, president and CEO of the museum. “In France the style was perfect for capturing the excitement of city life; in the U.S., it was a means of showing picturesque retreats frequented by well-to-do tourists along the coast of New York and New England.” Through September 16; 5798 State Hwy. 80; 607-547-1420; fenimoreartmuseum.org.