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American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent
March 1, 2017 - May 14, 2017
American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent
March 1, 2017 - May 14, 2017

How watercolor became an American phenomenon

This extraordinary gathering of rarely seen masterpieces traces the rise of a uniquely American medium. Shaped by the genius of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, the watercolor movement tells a story about innovation, experimentation, and the creation of bold new ways of seeing the world.

Experience one of the country’s great artistic legacies through stunning landscapes and illustrations, and designs for ceramics and stained glass.

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Exhibition Trailer

Conversations with Creators: American Watercolor with Landscape Architect Laurie Olin

Laurie Olin, one of the world’s most renowned landscape architects, has had a lifelong passion for watercolor. Discover how the watercolors of Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and others have inspired his work.

The Rise of Watercolor in the United States

Although widely practiced in the US before the Civil War, watercolor painting existed at the margins of the professional art world. Considered the domain of amateurs, women, and commercial artists, it drew little interest from the mainstream painters of the mid-1800s.

In Vaudeville (Dancer with Chorus)
In Vaudeville (Dancer with Chorus), 1918
Charles Demuth, American
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Watercolor’s reputation changed with the creation of the American Watercolor Society in 1866. Its annual exhibitions soon became the most liberal forum in New York, uniting artists of all ages, styles, and backgrounds. Drawing talent from the ranks of illustrators, who used watercolor on the job, and gaining strength from the Impressionists and landscape artists, who sketched in watercolor outdoors, the movement also welcomed new arts and crafts designers.

The buzz attracted collectors, who sparked the interest of yet more artists. By the early 1880s, every corner of the American art world was represented in the Society’s galleries: avant-garde painters returning from Europe, the old guard learning new tricks, illustrators looking for “fine art” status, and women artists seeking an entrée.

The American watercolor movement created stars like Homer, John La Farge, Thomas Moran, and William Trost Richards, artists who would remain dedicated to the medium for decades. Thomas Eakins, George Inness, and others rode the wave through its peak in the 1880s. Together, their work produced a taste for watercolor among younger artists and eager collectors that would endure through the turn of the century, inspiring a new crop of illustrators such as Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Willcox Smith, decorators from the circle of Louis C. Tiffany, and plein air masters Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, and Sargent.

Thanks to the legacy of Homer, Sargent, and their contemporaries, the next generation—Charles Demuth and Edward Hopper among them—would choose watercolor as a principal medium. Within fifty years, the Modernists would demonstrate that the reputation of watercolor had been rebuilt as a powerful and versatile “American” medium.

American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, produced by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

Want to create your own watercolor? Check out these local class offerings >>


Fleisher Art Memorial
719 Catharine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147-2811

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
118–128 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators

Philadelphia Water Color Society

Outside Philadelphia

Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE 19806

James A. Michener Art Museum
138 S. Pine Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Main Line Art Center
746 Panmure Road
Haverford, PA 19041

Montgomery County Community College
340 Dekalb Pike
Blue Bell, PA 19422

Mt. Cuba Center
3120 Barley Mill Road
Hockessin, DE 19707

Wayne Art Center
413 Maplewood Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087

Woodmere Art Museum
9201 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118


This exhibition is made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation, The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, The Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions, The Harriet and Ronald Lassin Fund for Special Exhibitions, The Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Ball Family Foundation, The Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Buck, Kathy and Ted Fernberger, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Leslie Miller and Richard Worley, Marsha and Richard Rothman, Clarice Smith, Boo and Morris Stroud, Winsor & Newton, and other donors.

The accompanying catalogue has been generously supported by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art and The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.



Kathleen A. Foster, The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art, and Director, Center for American Art


Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor

* Ticketing

Tickets are $5 after general admission. Members receive unlimited access; reserved tickets required.
Pay What You Wish admission does not apply.