Sat, 15 Aug 2009 21:25:46By David Boyce
On a recent day trip to Newport, some friends and I spent a few hours at the National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI), housed in Vernon Court on Belleville Avenue.
This makes for a beautiful, Gilded Age ambiance for a spectacular collection of original works by America’s illustration masters, called imagists, including works by N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew and grandfather of Jamie), Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Violet Oakley, Charles Dana Gibson, J.M. Flagg, Jesse Wilcox Smith, and Howard Chandler Christy, among several others.
As the guidebook describes it, “Vernon Court is a Beaux-Arts adaptation of an 18th century French building, Cháteau Harouè (1721), outside Nancy, by architect Germain Boffrand. French-style architecture was considered the consummate expression of proper architectural manners and this New World manifestation is more perfect than its historic antecedents.” The setting is as beautiful as the artworks.
Founded in 1998 by Judy and Laurence Cutler, and opened to the public on July 4, 2000, this is the first national museum dedicated to the art of illustration. Because the world of fine arts looked down on commercial enterprises, illustration did not find significant support or collectors until the late 20th century.
Early in the 1960s, Judy was one of the first private collectors to recognize illustration for its intrinsic aesthetic value, and she collected with a passion. The NMAI’s collection has grown since then, using the Cutler’s American Imagist Collection as its base.
Beginning the museum’s tour, we watch a video as an introduction to the collection and Vernon Court, featuring interviews and commentary by the Cutlers and such collectors as actress Whoopi Goldberg, an avid collector herself. An informed docent then guides our group through the various first-floor rooms of Vernon Court, filling in details about the artworks as well as the architecture and décor. Each room is laden with exquisite objects and it takes a while to soak it all in, but it makes for a visual feast that is well worth the price of admission ($18 for adults).
At the beginning of May of this year, I reviewed the new Abrams publication “J.C. Leyendecker” by the Cutlers, a beautiful volume and the second (and far superior) major study of the German immigrant who became Norman Rockwell’s hero and mentor, and the most prolific cover artist for the Saturday Evening Post with 322 covers. Seeing so many of Leyendecker’s original paintings at the NMAI was quite thrilling, as he was a painter in the true meaning of the word.
David B. Boyce is senior arts correspondent for The Standard-Times. ARTicles appears biweekly.