A perfectly marvelous New England art museum that might not get as much attention as many others is Newport, Rhode Island’s National Museum of American Illustration, which displays hundreds of heart-lifting paintings from of the Golden Age of American magazines and advertising. (Above: N.C. Wyeth "The Doryman" -- see full credit bottom of page)
The museum exhibits fill the ground floor of the beautiful but not overwhelming Vernon Court, an interpretation of a French chateau at 492 Bellevue Avenue.
These paintings -- many of them framed and hung in thousands of living rooms across the country -- told the stories of American culture from the end of the Civil War through the 1950s.
On a walk through the galleries – in the library, ballroom and salons of the house – painters like Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leydendecker, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Pyle, and many others depict fantastical worlds and also the everyday stories of American life.
They range from the enormous Florentine Fete murals by Parrish, to World War II-era accolades of citizen bravery by Norman Rockwell, to the Arrow collar ads by J.C. Leydendecker.
The museum was founded in 1998 by Laurence and Judy Cutler, a retired architect and an art historian. Judy Cutler began collecting work of illustrators more than four decades ago, when these works were under-appreciated in the art world. (Right: Maxfield Parrish "Morning" -- see full credit bottom of page)
The Cutlers define illustration as “art that was created to be reproduced in magazines and other periodicals, in books, and later in advertising. …illustration most often has a range of dictated parameters: esthetics by assignment, publishing deadlines, specified subject matter, and the restraints of dimensions and format.” (Right: J.C. Leyendecker Arrow collar ad "Couple in Boat" -- see full credit bottom of page)
The excellent weekly guided tour at 3 p.m. every Friday is a short but deep lesson in art history and the ways the commercial art form desccribe and led American culture. Rockwell’s painting, “Miss Liberty,” for instance, dates from the World War II years. It shows a young woman in stars-and-stripes apparel trudging purposefully with armloads of tools representing jobs that women could not do – until the country changed, and they could.
The guided tour on Fridays – and an audio tour that visitors can take any day, at their own pace – tell plenty of personal stories about the convention-bending private lives of some of the artists. (Right: Norman Rockwell "Miss Liberty -- see full credit bottom of page)
The house itself is marvelous – not as massive as some of its neighbors on Bellevue – and the tour moves from the Trelliage Loggia at one end, with marvelous nature-inspired murals, through salons and a ballroom to the distant Rose Garden Loggia, where several gigantic murals by Maxfield Parrish portray a grand party in Florence in the Renaissance period. (All but one or two of the dozens of faces replicate the face of Parrish’s muse and close friend, who lived with him in a not-very-conventional arrangement for decades.)
Next door to Vernon Court is the Stoneacre estate, with grounds were designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1884 (Stoneacre’s mansion was demolished in the 1962). Vernon Court sits on three acres, with its Frederick Law Olmsted Park and Arboretum (Stoneacre) comprising another three acres. (Above: Rose Garden Loggia of Vernon Court with murals by Maxfield Parrish A Florentine Fete-- see full credit bottom of page)
Public hours for the National Museum of American Illustration are Labor Day to Memorial Day weekend, Fridays only, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday to Monday of Memorial Day weekend, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Memorial Day to Labor Day, Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. A guided tour is given Friday at 3 p.m. year-round. 401-851-8949. Map
Photos, in order from top of post:
NC Wyeth (1882–1945), THE DORYMAN, 1933, oil on canvas, 42” x 35”, signed lower right; Trending Into Maine by Kenneth Roberts, Little Brown & Co., 1938, fp. 348 and cover illustration in the 1944 reprinting. © 2018 National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.
Vernon Court (1898), the historic mansion that houses the NMAI's “American Imagist Collection” of Golden Age Illustration Art. Photo courtesy National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.
Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966), MORNING, 1922, oil on panel, 19 5/8” x 15”, initialed lower right; Life Magazine, April 6, 1922 cover. © 2018 National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.
JC Leyendecker (1874–1951), ARROW COLLAR AD – COUPLE IN BOAT, 1922, oil on canvas, 20 1/2” x 29 1/2”; Arrow Collar advertisement. © 2018 National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.
Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), MISS LIBERTY, 1943, oil on canvas, 41 3/4” x 31 1/4”, signed lower right; Saturday Evening Post, September 4, 1943 cover. © 2018 SEP. Image courtesy National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.
The Rose Garden Loggia of Vernon Court is home to Maxfield Parrish’s A Florentine Fete series, which is comprised of 18 panels—all 10’ 6” in height and some as wide as 17’ 6”—in total. Photo courtesy National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.