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James E. Freeman
1808-1884
An American Painter in Italy

Illustration1
James E. Freeman (1808-84), Costume Picture, 1857
Oil on canvas, 59 x 45 in. Private collection

September 13 through January 17, 2010
The exhibition, James E. Freeman 1808Ė1884: An American Painter in Italy, opens Sunday, September 13 in the Museum of Art. This first-ever retrospective of the fancy pictures and portraiture of an artist who began his career in central New York State and went on to become a leading figure of the American expatriate community in Rome is comprised of 20 artworks spanning his career from 1835 to 1871. The exhibition will remain on view through January 17, 2010.

Independent art historians John F. McGuigan Jr. and Mary K. McGuigan are the exhibitionís guest curators and authors of the accompanying catalog. The extensive primary research they incorporated into the insightful and informative 168 page exhibition catalog, which includes two appendices (a chronology of Freemanís life and his American exhibition record with contemporary critical reviews), make it a welcome addition to the literature on the great era of the 19th-century American grand tour as well as the history of figural art in America. Copies of the exhibition catalog are available for sale for $49.95 in the Gift Gallery.

Illustration2
James E. Freeman (1808-84), Italian Beggars, 1844
Oil on canvas, 50 x 43 in. Private collection

Freemanís origins are in central New York State where he began as an academically trained painter of bespoke portraits and the occasional fancy picture. He first traveled to Italy in 1836 and remained a fixture of the vibraent art scene there until his death in Rome in 1884. In that time he forged a unique career centered on painting engaging fancy pictures of humble Italian peasants for an international clientele. These sentimental character studies of impish street urchins, beatific mothers with children, and blind beggars were appealing for their artless beauty, an ideal closely allied to the 18th-century cult of sensibility, which encouraged its adherents to respond viscerally to strong visual and literary stimuli, thereby engendering greater compassion and more ethical behavior. Freemanís dedication to the communicative potential of the fancy picture resulted in a remarkably cohesive oeuvre that constitutes his lasting legacy to American art.

Illustration3
James E. Freeman (1808-84), The Bad Shoe (The Frozen Foot), 1846.
Oil on canvas, 26 x 21 in.
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art
Gift fof Mr. and Mrs. John F. McGuigan, Jr.

In the exhibition catalog reconstruct the arc of Freemanís multifarious life, his two volumes of memoirs (1877 and 1883) and pioneering book of photographs of his art (1870) are discussed as they inform our understanding of his artistic career. Moreover, the fascinating, little-known details of Freemanís consulship to the Papal States during the tumultuous years of the Risorgimento, Italyís protracted struggle for independence and national unification, are explored. Freemanís passionately held political beliefs and his active participation in the historic events of the Roman Republic of 1849 also influenced his choice of subjects for his paintings and his allegiance to the fancy picture format.

Illustration4
James E. Freeman (1808-84), Italian Beggar Girl, 1860
Oil on canvas, 22 x 28 in. Private collection

As current scholarship re-evaluates the cult of sensibility, sentimentalism, and their attendant visual counterparts, and considers how they functioned within the broader framework of the Enlightenment, this unprecedented assessment of Freemanís art and life is especially timely and relevant. The rhetorical purpose of Freemanís fancy pictures in instilling a universal moral code of conduct not predicated on a single religion or a common heritage, but based on empathy and self-determination was as valid in Jacksonian America as it was in Italy during the Risorgimento. This examination of Freemanís paintings and their literary and historical sources addresses the important role assigned to the fancy picture as a vehicle for social and political change in an international arena.

Illustration5
James E. Freeman (1808-84), The Princess Prattles to Her Parrot, 1871
Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in. Private collection


In addition to introducing the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Artís local audience to an artist who began his career in central New York State, this project represents the first modern appraisal of a figure painter who was lauded by Henry T. Tuckerman in his seminal Book of the Artists (1867) but was subsequently lost to history. The scope of this exhibition reveals Freemanís uncanny ability to capture the character of his sitters, whether an American titan of commerce or an anonymous young contadina from the Italian hills.

Works in the exhibition come from several private lenders as well as the following public collections: Albany Institute of History & Art, Albany, N.Y.; Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.; The Hamilton Club, Hamilton, Ontario; Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art; The New-York Historical Society, N.Y.; Seward House, Auburn, N.Y.; Wells College, Aurora, N.Y.; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.




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James E. Freeman, 1808Ė1884:
An American Painter in Italy

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Museum of Art



Gill & Lagodich Fine Period Frames & Restoration, New York, N.Y. loaned two period frames for the exhibition.

Funding for the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue is supported by an endowment established at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute by David E. and Jane B. Sayre Bryant.

General program support for the Museum of Art is provided by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

Museum education program registration is taken on a first-come, first-served basis by check or cash only. Reservations cannot be made without payment. Mail your check, payable to MWPAI, to Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Museum Education Department, 310 Genesee St., Utica, NY 13502. Please include the program name in the memo section of your check. For more information, contact the museum education public program coordinator at (315) 797-0000, extension 2158.

Support for museum education programs is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.



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James E. Freeman
1808-1884
An American Painter in Italy

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