Water Views from the Figge Collection

May 6, 2011 - August 20, 2011
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Water Views from the Figge Collection

Water indeed reflects heaven because my mind does—such is its own serenity—its
transparency, and stillness… Standing on distant hills, you see the heavens reflected, 
the evening sky,in some low lake or river in the valley, as perfectly as in any mirror  
they could be. Does it not prove how intimate heaven is with earth?

Henry David Thoreau, 31 August – 1 September 1851, Journal

The devoutly reverent tenor of Henry David Thoreau’s (1817-1862) musings illustrate the indelible hold that water has exercised over the imagination of artists and poets. An agent of both physical and spiritual reflection, water not only highlights the natural beauty of the external environment but also stimulates introspective contemplation which in turn directs the mind to higher truths. Illuminative and illuminating, water is infused with symbolic meaning and serves as a tool for spiritual insight in receptive individuals.

The reflective properties of water however are but few of the many metaphors that have been used in the arts and common parlance to provide meaning to abstract concepts. We compare the passage of time with the course of river, the crash of a wave with destructive power, the endless expanse of the ocean with eternity and the transparencey of pure water with spiritual purity. Flexible and ever-changing, capable on the one hand of washing lands with abundance and on the one hand threatening civilization with ruin, water has not surprisingly provided meaning and inspiration to artists across geographies, cultures and history.

The exhibition Water Views from the Figge Collection explores and celebrates in a variety of media the beauty and diversity of water. Paintings of tumbling rivers and tranquil lakes, views of picturesque coves and harbors, or scenes of surf crashing on craggy shorelines invite us to take pause and reflect upon ourselves and our surroundings. Drawn from the Figge’s collection of European, American and Japanese paintings and works on paper, this exhibition offers a broad survey of water imagery and explores the cultural perceptions imbedded in them.  Not to be regarded as mere transcriptions of the natural world, seascapes and landscapes are views of the land and sea that have been carefully selected and manipulated in accordance to prevailing ideological attitudes about mankind and nature. Thus, Waugh’s and Edward Moran’s naturalistic studies of coasts bombarded with majestic waves revel in the interplay between water, light, the wind and earth and emphasize the power and potentially destructive nature of the sea but also allude to the importance of the sea coast for trade and the dangers associated with travel, as can be seen by the wreckage of a ship in Moran’s painting. The more intimate and muted marshes and lakes of Homer D. Martin, and Bruce Crane on the other hand offer refuge to the beholder and do not betray the distress and turmoil introduced by the increasingly industrialized world they inhabited. Similarly, the light-drenched elegiac scenes of calm Italian waters of George Loring Brown and Thomas Moran on the provide Old World refuge from the ills of modern society while the seaside, resort scenes of Signac and Stevens present nature as an amenity and offer respite from the chaos of urban life.

The selection of paintings and works of paper in Water Views underscores the beauty and strength of Figge’s permanent collection and allows us to celebrate its significance. The exhibition also offers ample opportunities to reflect upon the role of the Mississippi in this community.

This exhibition continues through August 21, 2011

Sponsored by Chris and Mary Rayburn

Edward Moran, Marine, n.d., oil on canvas, 1925.0187
Maxime Emile Louis Maufra, Antifer, 1895, watercolor, 1938.0809
Paul Signac, Les Andelys, 1923, watercolor, 1938.0811

Past Exhibitions

Orientation Gallery
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225 West Second Street
Davenport, Iowa



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Monday | Closed

Tuesday - Wednesday | 10am - 5pm

Thursday | 10am - 8pm

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