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Reynolda House Museum of American Art to Present "Samuel F.B. Morse's 'Gallery of the Louvre' and the Art of Invention," Opening in February

Best Known for Telegraph, Morse’s Skill as a Painter Will Dazzle 
 
Winston-Salem, NC—Reynolda House Museum of American Art will present “Gallery of the Louvre,” the masterwork painting of Samuel F. B. Morse, February 17 - June 4, 2017. Best known as the inventor of the telegraph and namesake Morse code, Morse’s most celebrated painting – also his last before turning to science – will form the core of the upcoming exhibition “Samuel F. B. Morse’s ‘Gallery of the Louvre’ and the Art of Invention.” The show will reveal Morse’s abiding interest in the transmission of knowledge, first via art, then by machine. Included will be related works from the museum’s own nationally recognized collection along with old master prints from Wake Forest University. The painting, completed in 1833, was little seen by the public until two years ago when it began a national tour. Reynolda House Museum of American Art will be the exhibition’s only venue in the southeastern United States.
 
“Gallery of the Louvre” is as noteworthy a development in American art as the telegraph is the dawn of telecommunications. Begun while Morse was living in Paris in 1831, the painting was conceived as a way to introduce American audiences to European masterpieces decades before the founding of art museums in the U.S. Morse envisioned “Gallery of the Louvre” as a teaching canvas, one that featured his erudite selection of the finest art inside Europe’s supreme cultural institution: the Louvre. 
 
The exhibition will explore themes of America’s then cultural identity with nearly two dozen important 19th-century paintings drawn from the permanent collection of Reynolda House. Paintings and prints by the era’s leading artists, including William Merritt Chase, Thomas Cole, John Singleton Copley, William Michael Harnett, Martin Johnson Heade, Edward Hicks, Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart, will be highlighted.
 
“Together these works comprise a national portrait showing the political, scientific and religious environment in which Morse developed, and the preoccupations of the artists who hoped to usher in an American Renaissance,” said Phil Archer, exhibition curator. 
 
Old master prints, among them work by Rembrandt and van Dyck, will be on loan to the exhibition from Wake Forest University’s collection. Prints like these were used in the 17th century in the same way that Morse intended his canvas to instruct and show art two centuries later. 
 
Background on “Gallery of the Louvre”
Morse’s monumental oil on canvas – six-by-nine feet – is composed of 38 old master paintings, from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He painstakingly copied works of Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, Tintoretto, Titian, Watteau and others in miniature and imaginatively ‘installed’ the works in one of the Louvre’s most majestic spaces: the Salon Carré. His arrangement of the old master miniatures within his own painting was done to demonstrate differences in style and technique among the artists. 
 
Morse is centered in the painting’s foreground as a teacher and, figuratively, as a link between European art of the past and America’s cultural future. He depicts himself tutoring a young art student as she works on her own copy of one of the masterpieces before her. Morse’s good friend, author James Fennimore Cooper, can be glimpsed with his wife and daughter in the left corner. 
 
“Gallery of the Louvre” is considered an example of the Kunstkammer (literally “art room”) tradition of paintings, a form popularized in 17th-century Europe, which shows people studying a collection of artworks hanging in a known architectural space. Morse’s painting differs in that the humans dwarfed by the masterpiece-crowded room are not just aristocrats on the Grand Tour. “Instead,” Archer explained, “Morse shows Americans in everyday dress copying and learning from the old master works, along with French country folk whose presence reinforces the democratic potential of public museums like the Louvre and Reynolda House.”
 
“Gallery of the Louvre” is the only major example of this painting style in the history of American art. 
 
Rendered with exceptional skill, the painting was nonetheless a purely pedagogical undertaking befitting Morse’s role as a founder of the National Academy of Arts in New York, to educate America’s future painters. Morse’s plan was to commence a national tour, charging admission to view “Gallery of the Louvre.” However, this transatlantic exchange of cultural enlightenment never materialized. Morse then turned his creative talents to perfecting his telegraph. 
 
The advent of the information age arrived a decade later, when Morse instantly relayed the question “What hath God wrought” from inside the Capitol in Washington to his assistant in Baltimore. The New York Daily Tribune announced that the telegraph had annihilated space and time. Art played a role in the invention:  Morse’s earliest telegraph machines were built using wooden canvas stretcher bars from his studio. Morse’s masterwork was little seen by the public until 2015 when a national tour began, 182 years after its completion, the much-delayed culmination of Morse’s original intent. 
 
Reynolda House Museum of American Art plans a series of lectures and a symposium to further explore themes presented in the exhibition. An exhibition catalogue and gallery guide will be available for purchase in the museum store. The museum will also offer a ticket package that includes museum admission and the gallery guide. Tickets will be available on the museum’s website at reynoldahouse.org.
 
“Samuel F.B. Morse’s ‘Gallery of the Louvre’ and the Art of Invention” was organized by and with support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Reynolda House is grateful for support of the exhibition from Major Sponsor Wake Forest Innovation Quarter; Contributing Sponsor Terra Foundation for American Art; and Exhibition Partners Joia Johnson and Jeff and Sissy Whittington.
 
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About Reynolda House Museum of American Art
Reynolda House Museum of American Art is one of the nation’s premier American art museums, with masterpieces by Mary Cassatt, Frederic Church, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and Gilbert Stuart among its collection. Affiliated with Wake Forest University, Reynolda House features changing exhibitions, concerts, lectures, classes, film screenings and other events. The museum is located at 2250 Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the historic 1917 estate of Katharine Smith Reynolds and her husband, Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. With its centennial in 2017, Reynolda House will celebrate both its history of interpreting and preserving American art and culture, and its future, which promises exciting exhibitions and innovative reinterpretations of the Reynolda Estate. Along with Reynolda Gardens and Reynolda Village, which feature spectacular public gardens, dining, and shopping, Reynolda House offers a unique experience that spans both the past and present. For more information, please visit reynoldahouse.org or call 336.758.5150. Connect at facebook.com/rhmaa and @VisitReynolda.