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SEVENTY YEARS GRANDMA MOSES: A Loan Exhibition Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Artist’s “Discovery” > Additional Information

Galerie St. Etienne

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SEVENTY YEARS GRANDMA MOSES: A Loan Exhibition Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Artist’s “Discovery” traces the career of Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860–1961), a self-taught painter from Eagle Bridge, NY, who in the mid-twentieth century was arguably the most famous artist in America. The exhibition features many of the paintings that established Moses’s reputation, including loans from three institutions that played significant roles in her career: The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, and the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont.

Comprising over 60 oil paintings and three rare embroideries, SEVENTY YEARS GRANDMA MOSES: A Loan Exhibition Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Artist’s “Discovery” begins with a partial re-creation of Moses’s first one-person exhibition, “What a Farmwife Painted,” held at the Galerie St. Etienne in 1940. The highlight among these nine early paintings, all borrowed from private collections, is Bringing in the Maple Sugar (1940), which convinced the gallery’s founder, Otto Kallir, to take a chance on the eighty-year-old painter. In 1941, the pioneering collector Duncan Phillips (an early supporter of self-taught artists such as John Kane and Horace Pippin) acquired his first Moses, Cambridge Valley (1942 today privately owned), in 1944 his second, and in 1949 his third, Hoosick Falls, N.Y., in Winter [(1944) both housed at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.]. By the mid 1940s the artist had developed the distinctive “Grandma Moses style, ” involving the interpolation of nearly abstract figures in evocatively rendered landscapes and exemplified by such signature works as Black Horses (1942) and Sugaring Off (1943). Demonstrating the range of Moses’ subject matter over the course of her twenty-year career, other works in the exhibition depict such rural tasks as Apple Butter Making (1947), celebrations like A Country Wedding (1951 collection the Bennington Museum, Bennington Vermont), indoor activities like The Quilting Bee (1950), holidays like Halloween (1955) and storms such as A Blizzard (1956).  The monumental canvas Grandma Moses Going to Big City (1946) affirms Moses’ impressive command of scale, while her last finished painting, Rainbow (1961), reveals the quasi-expressionistic color and brushwork that typify her late style. So Long Till Next Year (1960), an illustration for Clement C. Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas,” reflects the artist’s ability to accept new challenges at the age of 100.

The Primitives are the salt of the earth, Through their existence alone does contemporary art, so knowing, so sophisticated and daring, preserve in its depth sources of freshness and life…. The United States through its “avant-garde” is making the most daring aesthetic experiments, but it also has its primeval forces, its springs of fresh water…. Grandma Moses would have us know that there is still a bit of paradise left on this earth and that art may reach out as far as it will with its most advanced branches, because it is deeply rooted in the rich soil of Grandma Moses’s garden.
— Jean Cassou, 1950
Director, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris

Grandma Moses first attracted art-world attention as part of a Modernist fascination with self-taught artists that began in Europe before World War I and was taken up by such American institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s, but she soon transcended the boundaries of the so-called “Primitive” or “Outsider” art fields. Moses’s no-nonsense, unassuming personality and humble origins appealed to American populism, while her pictorial reminiscences of nineteenth-century farm life offered reassurance to a public battered by the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold-War-era threat of nuclear annihilation. Her appeal had less to do with nostalgia per se than with her ability to memorialize the enduring values found in nature, connecting the past with the present and thereby securing the future.

Moses was one of the first artists to benefit from the ascendancy of the mass media in the immediate post-World-War-II period. The first Grandma Moses Christmas cards and the first monograph,  Grandma Moses: American Primitive, issued in 1946, were best-sellers. Her paintings were reproduced as large-scale reproductions, on drapery fabrics and on China plates. A 1950 documentary on the artist was nominated for an Academy Award, and in 1952 Lillian Gish portrayed Moses in a televised  “docu-drama” based on her autobiography, My Life’s History (published earlier that year). Moses was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow for a television special in 1955, appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1953, Life in 1960. Everything she did, every new Moses product, reverberated through the media, was picked up by the wire services and circulated in a national press that was relatively unified in terms of content, yet widely dispersed geographically. Because her appeal cut across the boundaries that in the 1940s and ‘50s separated popular tastes from those of the art-world elite, Grandma Moses defies ready categorization. Her achievement, which has endured now for seventy years, is in a class by itself. Today, when boundaries within and beyond the art world are increasingly being called into question, the legacy of Grandma Moses is ripe for reappraisal. SEVENTY YEARS GRANDMA MOSES: A Loan Exhibition Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Artist’s “Discovery” invites us to reassess Moses in a contemporary context.

SEVENTY YEARS GRANDMA MOSES is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge by mail, or can be downloaded from our website:

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