This summer, Shelburne Museum presents “Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art,” the first major exhibition to explore the visual culture of hunting and fishing in both painting and sculpture from the early 19th century to World War II. The aesthetically rich and culturally important works on view play an influential role in the history of American art.
This exhibition encompasses a wide variety of portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and genre scenes, including iconic works by Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent, as well as key pictures by specialist sporting artists such as Charles Deas, Alfred Jacob Miller, Carl Rungius, and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait.
In addition, it sheds new light on modernist interpretations of these subjects by George Bellows and Marsden Hartley, among others. As the only east coast venue for this exhibition, which opens June 3, Shelburne Museum is fortunate to have in its vast collection three-dimensional objects like decoys, antlers, and firearms that will provide additional visual context for viewers exploring not only the exhibition’s works but the Museum at large.
American artists’ fascination with depicting hunting and fishing was often informed by their own experiences as practitioners and was more than merely a way of commemorating outdoor traditions. More than 70 paintings and sculptures—some of the finest examples of American art—illuminate changing ideas about place, national identity, community, wildlife, and the environment, offering compelling insights into socioeconomic issues and cultural concerns.
“The rugged outdoor life informed the work of countless American artists,” according to Museum Director Tom Denenberg, “and this exhibition is a rich exploration of an under-appreciated topic in American visual culture.” It also offers viewers an opportunity to consider the human impact on and symbiosis with the natural world from a cultural and historical perspective, relevant to shifting environmental understanding.
The exhibition, which runs from June 3 to Aug. 23 in the Murphy and Colgate Gallery of the Pizzagalli Center for Arts and Education, will draw crowds of travelers and Vermonters to the 45-acre museum campus, which features 38 buildings and some of the most diverse and eclectic art, design, and Americana on display in the United States.
“Hunting and fishing are a large part of Vermont’s outdoors and sporting culture,” exhibition curator Kory Rogers says, “making this exhibit a natural fit for our community.” But even visitors who are not avid hunters nor anglers will be rapt by the works on view. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see masterpieces like Winslow Homer’s ‘Huntsman and Dogs’ and William Sydney Mount’s ‘Eel Spearing at Setauket’ in Vermont. These paintings won’t likely return to the Green Mountain State in my lifetime.”
“Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art” was organized by Shelburne Museum, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Joslyn Art Museum, and Dixon Gallery and Gardens. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on The Arts and the Humanities.