Whistler to Cassatt Access Guide


Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France

In the second half of the 1800s, many American painters flocked to France in search of critical acclaim and patronage. In Paris, they could experience the complexity of French painting—from traditional academic paintings to canvases showing strains of Realism and Impressionism. American artists observed, experimented, and learned in the private ateliers (studios) of famous French painters or at the state art academy, the École des Beaux-Arts, founded in 1648. They yearned to master academic training and be accepted into the city’s annual Salon, the official exhibition of the École des Beaux-Arts, where art critics would draw attention to their work. While many of these artists saw their popularity grow upon their return to the United States, some critics, patrons, and artists questioned the validity of their efforts and began to ask: What makes art American?

A painting of horse-drawn carriages traveling down a wide, dirt city street lined by green trees.

New Britain Museum of American Art: Grace Judd Landers Fund, 1943.14. Image courtesy New Britain Museum of American Art.

Childe Hassam
American, 1859–1935
Grand Prix Day (Le Jour du Grand Prix)
Oil paint on canvas
New Britain Museum of American Art: Grace Judd Landers Fund, 1943.14

100. Exhibition Introduction/Overview: Childe Hassam’s Grand Prix Day (Le Jour du Grand Prix)

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Christoph Heinrich: Hello, I’m Christoph Heinrich, the Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the Denver Art Museum. I’m delighted to welcome you to the museum, and to our special exhibition Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France. We’re going to explore the story of American artists who traveled to Paris in the late nineteenth century in search of training and opportunities. We’ll learn about the new approaches and techniques these artists acquired there and how they used their experiences to build their careers – both in France and back in the United States.

Nearby, you’ll see a view of fashionable Parisians going to the horse races. It’s filled with a sense of light and color that American artist Childe Hassam absorbed during his French training. The painting was displayed at the celebrated Paris Salon in 1888.

And now, I’d like to introduce you to your main guide on this audio tour - exhibition curator Timothy Standring, Curator Emeritus of the Denver Art Museum.

Standring: And the great story here is that Americans mirrored the complexity of what was going on in France, which is a beautiful story for us to appreciate because it brings up the question not only what is American art but also it brings up the question of American singularity and American individualism.

200. Childe Hassam Grand Prix Day (Le Jour du Grand Prix), 1887

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Adele Tanner: Greetings, dear friends. (beat) I mean..., what's up? Please forgive me. I've just arrived here from the past, so I may not know your lingo too well...yep you heard me, the past! I time traveled here all the way from the year 1913. And I have the magic to become any age I want! Pretty awesome, right? You see, I'm an aspiring arts and cultural journalist. I’m here to report on my incredible Grandfather who is a most stupendous...I mean legit artist. His name is Henry Ossawa Tanner. I traveled to this exact place and time in Denver, Colorado because I heard he was in this exhibition and I need to make sure everyone knows all about his art. Time traveling to a future exhibition that my grandfather is featured in, will make quite a story back home in my time, don't you think? (beat) I’m hoping as we journey on through this exhibition, we can meet many artists who, like my Grandfather, Henry, were born in America and traveled to study and make art in France. Let’s begin by looking at this painting called Grand Prix Day by Childe Hassam. What do you notice in this painting? (beat) I can tell you that a very fancy parade is happening. Can you guess where the parade is heading? They are all going to watch a horse race. Do you all do that in your time? I’ve never been, but I do hope to write a story on the races someday. I can also report that Childe Hassam just won a gold medal for this painting at the most famous exhibition in the world, The Grand Salon in Paris! I cannot wait to see what other artists are here. Let us meet at the next stop inside!

Scenes of Paris, 1896–1900
Originally filmed by Lumière & Company, remastered by Guy Jones.
© 2021 Guy Jones History Project

Black-and-white photograph of the Grand Palais in Paris, France shown from an angle.

Agence Roger Viollet/GRANGER

Grand Palais, Paris, France

Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France is organized by the Denver Art Museum. The exhibition is supported by the Tom Taplin Jr. and Ted Taplin Endowment, the Kristin and Charles Lohmiller Exhibitions Fund, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, Kathie and Keith Finger, Lisë Gander and Andy Main, Lauren and Geoff Smart, Christie’s, the French American Museum Exchange (FRAME), the generous donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign, and the residents who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Promotional support is provided by 5280 Magazine and CBS4.