Paul Sample, Movies-Canton Island, 1943, Oil on canvas, Army Art Center, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.

George Ault, Festus Yayple and His Oxen, 1946, Oil on canvas, Cleveland Museum of Art, Hinman B. Hurlbut Fund, Photo by Jamison Miller.

George Ault, Daylight at Russell’s Corners, 1944, Oil on canvas, Collection of Sam Simon, Image © Christie’s Images Limited 2002.

Edward Hopper, Dawn in Pennsylvania, 1942, Oil on canvas, Terra Museum of American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collections, Courtesy of Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago/Art Resource, NY22.

An American Original Born of a Nation in Turmoil and a Redefined World

George Ault, Memories of the Coast of France, 1944, Oil on canvas, Manhattan Art Investments, LP, Photo by David Heald.

George Ault, August Night at Russell’s Corners, 1948, Oil on canvas, Joslyn Art Museum, Museum Purchase.

George Ault, Black Night at Russell’s Corners, 1943, Oil on canvas, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, John Lambert Fund.

George Ault, January Full Moon, 1941, Oil on canvas, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Purchase: William
Rockhill Nelson Trust (by exchange), Photo by Jamison Miller.

George Ault, Old House, New Moon, 1943, Oil on canvas, Yale University Art Gallery, Anonymous Gift 8. George Ault.

 

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4575 Oak Street
816-754-1778
Kansas City
To Make a World:
George Ault and 1940s America

October 15, 2011-January 8, 2012

During the turbulent 1940s, artist George Ault (1891-1948) created eerie and evocative paintings that are some of the most original made during those years. To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America, organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

The first major exhibition of Ault’s art in more than 20 years, To Make a World recreates a moment in America when the country was rendered fragile by the Great Depression and made anxious by global conflict. Although much has been written about the glorious triumph of the World War II, what has dimmed over time are memories of the tenor of life on the home front, when the country was distant from battlefields yet profoundly at risk.

The art Ault created while living in relative isolation in rural upstate New York became a personal world of clarity and composure that offset a real world he felt was in crisis.

"George Ault’s world is very different from the world of the can-do spirit embodied by Rosie the Riveter," said Stephanie Knappe, assistant curator of American art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. "He felt the world was disintegrating before his eyes and tried to control the chaos around him through his art."

This exhibition of 48 paintings, drawings and prints presents Ault in context with 22 of his contemporaries. Although many of these artists, like Ault, worked far from the wartime turmoil felt in large cities, they nevertheless confronted the devastating uncertainty of the times. Paintings by celebrated artists Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth as well as by those less widely known today, such as Edward Biberman and Dede Plummer, present an aesthetic vein running through 1940s American art not previously explored and reveal affinities with and contrasts to the world Ault so carefully made in his studio.

Central to the exhibition are four paintings Ault made between 1943 and 1948 depicting the crossroads of Russell’s Corners in Woodstock, New York, not far from Ault’s home. The mystery in Ault’s Russell’s Corners pictures and other paintings in this exhibition, such as the Nelson-Atkins’ own haunting January Full Moon, evoke the mood of life on the home front, while the meticulous control with which they were rendered offers a counterbalance to civilization at the brink during the war years.

"Beyond shedding light on forgotten memories and rekindling lost emotions, To Make a World resonates strongly today as we all strive to make our own worlds while so much around us is constantly changing," said Knappe.

To Make a World revisits 1940s America, drawing in visitors in through the least likely of places — not grand actions or cataclysmic events, not epoch-making posters and headlines, but quiet spots where some mystery seems always on the verge of being disclosed.

In honor of their service, the exhibition will be free for veterans and active duty military and their families on Veterans Day, November 11.

The accompanying book, co-published by the museum and Yale University Press, is written by Nemerov with a foreword by Broun. In his essay, Nemerov weaves references not only to historical events and artists, but also to poetry, drama and film to present a richly compelling narrative of thenational mood during the 1940s and of the American artists who captured it. It will be available for purchase ($45, hardcover only) at bookstores nationwide.

George Ault, Brook in the Mountains, 1945, Oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Myron and Anita Kunin.

George Ault, Nude and Torso, 1945, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of Zabriskie Gallery, Photo by David Heald.

Andrew Wyeth, Public Sale, 1943, Tempera on panel, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bequest of Margaret McKee Breyer, © Andrew Wyeth.

Andrew Wyeth, Night Hauling, 1944, Tempera on masonite, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Ernestine K. Smith, in memory of her husband, Burwell B. Smith, © Andrew Wyeth .

Rockwell Kent, December 8, 1941, 1941, Oil on canvas, Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Gift of Sally Kent Gorton.