The modern movement is in the direction of greater freedom, freedom to produce beautiful things in one’s own way.
— Arthur Jerome Eddy
The Maria and Barry King Collection contains the rich work of a diverse array of artists who together participated in the birth and evolution of American modernism in the first half of the twentieth century. These artists would emerge as members of prominent modernist movements during this period including Synchromism (Morgan Russell, William Yarrow), Precisionism (Charles Demuth, Morton Livingston Schamberg), and the Stieglitz Group (Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Marius De Zayas). Varied as they are in the expression of their efforts and ideas, they are united by the experimental fervor of their era, a drive for “newness” and a definition of the “American style” which was described by Marsden Hartley in 1928: “the office of modern art [is]…to arrive at a species of purism, native to ourselves in our own concentrated period, to produce the newness or the nowness of individual experience…modern art must remain in a state of experimental research.”
These selections offer the discovery of lesser-known works by well-known artists such as Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley, as well as completely new yet singularly significant personalities such as Edward Middleton Manigault and Jan Matulka. Among these artists, the landmark contributions are manifold: Manierre Dawson was likely the first American to paint pure abstractions in 1910; the Saint Louis native Albert Bloch, the only American included in the 1911 and 1912 Munich exhibitions that introduced the world to the German Expressionist Der Blaue Reiter group, and the daring Philadelphian artist and scientist Henry Lyman Sayen, who unfortunately died young before the end of World War I, likely due to his inventions in the field of X-rays.
Viewed together, these works are representative of a vital and rapidly changing period in American art, through which the groundwork was laid for artistic developments of the second half of the twentieth century. The spirit of the times was captured by writer Walter Lippmann: “Instead of a world once and for all fixed, with a morality finished and sealed…we have a world bursting with new ideas, new plans, and new hopes. The world was never so young as it is today. So impatient of crusty things”
What constitutes American painting? When a man paints the El, a 1740 house or a miner's shack, he is likely to be called by his critics, American. These things may be in America, but it's what is in the artist that counts. What do we call "American" outside of painting? Inventiveness, restlessness, speed, change. Well, then, a painter may put all these qualities in a still life or an abstraction, and be going more native than another who sits quietly copying a skyscraper.
Art, for me, is nothing more than an expression of life. That expression must come from within and not from without.