New exhibit seeks to transport art enthusiasts back to 1855

Last Wednesday night, Holman Hall was abuzz with students seeking good food, music and a marvelous collection of art. The College’s Art Gallery opened its doors to present this year’s blockbuster event, Circa 1855. The collection, featuring American, French and Japanese work, from roughly 1835 to 1875, offered something for everyone.

The various pieces, including furniture and clothing, brought the collection to life, offering a three-dimensional viewing experience that captured the audience’s attention.

The show began with an opening reception on Jan. 26, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. complete with a full buffet and two student violinists. Each visitor to the gallery was first greeted by a quotation on the outside window that started their journey into Circa 1855 and set the tempo for the collection. The quote was by Charles Baudelaire, from the Exposition Universelle Paris 1855.

“I love the quote as you enter the gallery,” Ellie Fogarty, executive assistant to the Provost, said. “It really sets the mood.”

The title comes from the founding date of the College and is intended to broaden the audience’s perception of the era.

“My goal is for the collection to help to put the Trenton Normal School’s inception into a more global context,” Lois Fichner-Rathus, curator of the collection and co-chair of Department of Art, said.

Fichner-Rathus explained that in creating the exhibit she wanted her audience to see more than just individual pieces. She wanted them to be able to tie the works together and understand the way in which one part of the world can weigh on another.

According to Fichner-Rathus, each location that the art was chosen from had a very specific purpose. During the time the pieces were chosen from, France was the dominating force in the world of art; in fact, one artist featured in the collection, Whistler, left America to pursue his work in Paris. This was also the time when Japan opened its trade doors, the importance of which can be seen in the influence on many pieces coming from Paris. Americans, however, still retained their desire for realism.

Circa 1855 focuses on these differences between American and European art of the mid-19th century and draws attention to the influential relationship between French and Japanese art.

“I want people to see the bigger picture and the connections in the world,” Fichner-Rathus said.

“The individual pieces were amazing and in viewing the collection as a whole I made connections I never would have thought to make,” Clint Cappiello, senior biology major, said. “The influence of the Japanese on the artwork coming from Paris at this time is fascinating.”

Each visitor who attended the opening night was presented with a package containing information about and pictures of the works of art.

“It was wonderful to not only view the works, but to be able to learn so much about them as well,” Jennifer Caso, senior law and justice major, said.

Upon stepping into the Gallery, the viewer was asked to do more than just look at the pieces of art – they were asked to really explore them. Two Whistler pieces were presented with plaques asking the audience to “compare and csontrast” the two works. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln had a plaque asking the viewer to take “A Closer Look” and evaluate how the portrait measures up with their commonly held images of Lincoln.

“The portrait of Abraham Lincoln is a prize piece. I consider it to be the best portrait of Lincoln ever done,” Fichner-Rathus said. She also said the portrait, which is displayed as the central piece upon entering the gallery, is hung so that Lincoln is portrayed at his living height of 6 feet 4 inches. She believes this adds the realism of Lincoln, showing him not just a figure of authority but as a man.

Another eye-catching piece of the collection is a dress worn at Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball. The mannequin brings the dress to life and constructs it to be one of the central pieces of the collection.

Fogarty?said she thought the dress added a lot to the collection.

“It is a great piece,” she said. “With Bush’s Inaugural Ball and the Golden Globes just recently occurring, it is great to compare something worn circa 1855.”

The collection also features works by Daumier, Hiroshige, Homer, Pissaro, Troyon, Whistler and several other well-known 19th century artists on loan from various areas museums, such as the Princeton University Art Museum and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum.

“It is a beautiful collection. The way the exhibit was designed really brought it all together,” Caso said. “I enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the reception. It was a wonderful experience.”

Members of the College sand surrounding community are invited to visit the gallery Monday through Friday noon to 3 p.m., Thursday 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.