Moving Pictures

Oh to be in Washington, as this exhibition sounds excellent. Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film is running 17 February-20 May at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009. As the blurb says, “This exhibition will present American realist painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries side-by-side with the earliest experiments in film. Approximately 100 works, including nearly 60 short films (a few minutes long) by Thomas Edison, the Lumière Brothers, and the Cinémathèque Française, along with works by American masters such as George Bellows, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan, will provide a new context for looking at the artists’ choice and presentation of subject matter. For the first time, film will be fully integrated into the history of American art.”

The connection between art and early film is a fascinating subject that needs to be explored more. The work of chronophotographers like Eadweard Muybridge, trying to capture reality through sequence photography, had a particular fascination for realist artists like Frederic Remington, whose paintings of horses must be seen in the light of Muybridge’s famous achievement of photographing a galloping horse. And then the emergence of moving pictures themselves provided an extra challenge for artists who had already had to face up to photography, provoking them into new ways of expression. The early filmmakers were the first surrealists!