Woodmere Art Museum presents John Folinsbee and American Modernism

  • PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania
  • /
  • November 22, 2010

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Frozen River, 1917/18; John Folinsbee; 20 x 24 in., oil on canvas; Private Collection.
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

The Woodmere Art Museum – Philadelphia's premier institution for interpreting the art and culture of the Philadelphia region – presents a new exhibition exploring the work of landscape painter John Folinsbee (1892 – 1972), offering a fresh perspective on the revered New Hope painter’s life and career. John Folinsbee and American Modernism, on display now through March 6, 2011, moves past Folinsbee’s reputation as an impressionist painter, revealing the artist’s contributions to the development of modern art in America.

Trenton Platform, 1929; John Folinsbee; 32 x 40 in., oil on canvas; Private Collection
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

Visitors to the exhibition will experience Folinsbee’s paintings depicting the Bucks County region’s iconic scenery as they have rarely been presented before. Looking beyond the traditional pastoral views of the Delaware River and its environs, Folinsbee chose instead to paint the mills, factories, and steel-truss bridges that lined its banks or spanned its waters, and was drawn to the architectural beauty of barns, quarries, and slag heaps. These paintings, primarily on loan to the museum from generous private collectors throughout the country, have been seen by the public rarely, if ever, since Folinsbee created them.

Located at 9201 Germantown Avenue in the historic cobblestoned Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, the Woodmere Art Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Admission to special exhibitions is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and FREE for students and children. For visitor information, call (215) 247-0476 or visit www.woodmereartmuseum.org.

John Folinsbee and American Modernism is Woodmere’s first major exhibition under the direction of William R. Valerio, who was recently appointed as the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO in September. “My responsibility as director is to move Woodmere to the future with strength, preserving the great legacies of the past that make it special, and at the same time, creating new vitality and positive energy,” says Valerio, who came to Woodmere from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he served as Assistant Director for Administration.

Tulip Poplars, Autumn, 1918; John Folinsbee; 24 x 30 in., oil on canvas; Collection of Walter and Lucille Rubin
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

Valerio continues, “John Folinsbee’s imagery is replete with metaphors appropriate to the moment: bridges are the subject of many of his paintings; whether in Poughkeepsie or New Hope, Folinsbee’s bridges span from bank to bank, connecting the near and the far and representing the path that links the present with both the past and the future.  Water rushes beneath Folinsbee’s bridges, reminding us of the inexorable flow of time, as much as the dramatic diagonal line of train tracks receding into the distance convey a certainty of the march of modernity.”

John Folinsbee and American Modernism offers museum patrons the opportunity to experience both the new direction of the Woodmere Art Museum and a chance to see the recent renovation of the Museum’s grand Kuch Gallery, the rotunda-like space which houses the Folinsbee exhibition. The renovation was designed by influential Philadelphia-based architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, of VSBA, who have maintained a long-standing, relationship with the Museum. Also currently on view at the museum is Sam Maitin: Prints and Places.

About John Fulton Folinsbee (1892 – 1972)

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1892, John Folinsbee demonstrated artistic talent at an early age and was sent at age nine to study at the Albright Art Gallery.  He moved to Bucks County in 1916 to New Hope, Pennsylvania – a town well known for the Impressionist landscapes made famous by the region’s resident artists such as Edward Redfield, Charles Rosen, and Daniel Garber.

Throughout his career, Folinsbee approached his work with a fearlessness and independence that is evident in the emotional force of his paintings and the vigor of his brushstrokes.

Folinsbee was a regular exhibitor at the National Academy of Design in New York (known today as the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts), where he won nearly every award—sometimes more than once.  By his mid-thirties, he had a national reputation that extended to Texas, Ohio, Missouri, California, Indiana, and elsewhere – far beyond the boundaries of Bucks County, with which he is so closely associated today.

His achievements as an artist were recognized repeatedly in the form of national prizes and awards from institutions such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Carnegie Museum of Art; in 1943 he was inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His work is represented in numerous private and public collections, including The Corcoran Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.; The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; The New Jersey State Museum; and the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland, ME.

Woodmere’s exhibition, John Folinsbee and American Modernism, offers a new perspective on an artist largely identified today as a New Hope Impressionist. However, during the years 1920-1940, Folinsbee began to move away from traditional Impressionism in favor of a style more firmly grounded in structure and a greater expression of mood. Structure is a key characteristic of modernism, and paintings made by Folinsbee during this period reveal him to be much more engaged in the development of modern art in America than has been previously thought.

“Folinsbee was not a modernist, but he was modern,” says exhibition curator Kirsten Jensen, an expert on the artist’s work and Director of the John F. Folinsbee Catalogue Raisonné.  “His painting reflects a contemporary sensibility, one that changed as the times changed, and which reflected an earnest attempt to digest and translate visually what was around him culturally.  His mature artistic practice melded old and new together in an innovative way.”

Adds Valerio, “Here we encounter Folinsbee embracing the language of modern art and the great innovations of Cezanne as a vehicle to express the uncertainty and changing nature of American life.  At the same time, we are made to see that Folinsbee’s work of earlier decades, his Impressionism, is highly structured and it presents us with a landscape that is rapidly changing.”

Related Programs

In conjunction with the exhibition, Woodmere will offer several opportunities for visitors to learn more about Folinsbee, his work, and his intimate connection with the region. The Museum will host a Gallery Talk (Nov. 11) with Pamela Birmingham, Curator of Education at Woodmere, and the lecture Widening an Old Trail: John Folinsbee and the New Hope Modernists (Dec. 5) with exhibition curator, Kirsten Jensen. Additional programs are scheduled for 2011 and will be announced soon.

An audio program featuring personal accounts from members of the Folinsbee family and interviews with the curator will also be available to visitors. Accessible by a cell phone call-in system; instructions will be provided within the gallery. Woodmere will also publish an accompanying exhibition catalogue with an essay written by exhibition curator, Kirsten Jensen.

The Folinsbee Family

The Folinsbee family has been instrumental in shaping the exhibition. Without the generosity and intellectual partnership of the family, especially, Elizabeth Folinsbee Wiggins and Joan Folinsbee Cook, Folinsbee’s daughters, and the other family members that make up the John F. Folinsbee Art Trust, this exhibition would have been impossible.

About Woodmere Art Museum

Housed in a gracious 19th century stone Victorian mansion on six acres in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Woodmere Art Museum first opened its doors to the public in 1940. The building, grounds and the nucleus of the permanent collection are the benefactions of Charles Knox Smith (1845 — 1916) whose wish it was to create "a very lively art center ... to awaken the spirit of, the appreciation of, and the knowledge of art … in the City of Philadelphia and surrounding territory." Today, the Permanent Collection houses more than 2500 works of art, much of it celebrating the art and artists of the Philadelphia region. Nine galleries and salons including a grand rotunda and a uniquely designated Children's Gallery provide superb space for exhibiting both the Permanent Collection and numerous special exhibits each year. A converted carriage house serves as the George D. Widener Studio where a year-round roster of classes provides outstanding art training to children and adults. Numerous public programs – lectures, tours, trips – and an impressive library and slide registry ensure that the community has ongoing access to a wide spectrum of art education resources.


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