58-year-old Howard Pyle died unexpectedly in 1911. He was in Italy with his family at the time. A couple of months later his friends gathered to find a way to preserve and exhibit his art. Pyle was a significant contributor to what is now known as the Golden Age of American Illustration from 1880 to 1914. The Society that formed bought almost 100 of his excellent works like “He Lost His Hold and Fell…” above. This meeting led to the creation of the Delaware Art Museum at 2301 Kentmere Parkway in Wilmington.
Sam Bancroft, Jr. saw his first Pre-Raphaelite painting in 1880. A Wilmington textile mill owner and Quaker, Bancroft became an unlikely fan of this 19th century movement whose most famous artist was Dante Gabriel Rossetti. During the 1930s Depression, Bancroft’s family donated his art, his manuscript collection, and 11 acres of land for a museum.
Samuel Bancroft, Jr’s Pre-Raphaelite acquisitions became the premier collection of this art outside the United Kingdom. This movement occurred about the time the Impressionists were gathering in France. Both groups rebelled against the status quo. The English artists who called themselves Pre-Raphaelites distrusted the Royal Academy and drew inspiration from Middle Ages art, Shakespeare, the Bible, etc. The result was paintings of pale, ethereal, flower-clutching women often alone and clearly unhappy or in dreamlike, G-rated romantic situations with men who are either heroic or hostile.
John Sloan, one of the founders of the Ashcan School of American Art, died in 1951. Nine years later his wife, Helen Farr Sloan, visited Wilmington for the first time, was impressed by what she saw at DAM, and for the next 45 years increased its holdings by 5,000 works, including probably the best collection of her husband’s paintings seen anywhere.
These are the 3 best reasons to visit DAM when you’re in Delaware, but they’re not the only ones. When I was there for the first time in June, 2013, I knew nothing about Howard Pyle, didn’t much care for the Pre-Raphaelites, and hadn’t seen much of Sloan’s art. This museum’s focus on them both impressed me and changed my thinking.
Other reasons to visit DAM include a Chihuly Bridge, the Copeland Sculpture Garden, Thronson Cafe, a traditional collection of Colonial & Federal art–Sully, West, etc.–a scattering of great American artists–Homer, Eakins, Hopper–and a genuine curatorial gift for bringing in appealing temporary shows. Ruth and I saw a delightful, since closed exhibit of Alexi Natchev’s animated figures like the camel below that reminds me of that funny hump day commercial. Upcoming on October 12 is American Moderns 1910-1960, a show that pairs, probably for the 1st time, Georgia O’Keeffe and Grandma Moses.
I enter most museums knowing what to expect. The Delaware Museum of Art was different.