This exhibition explores the major cultures and monuments of the Mediterranean region through the art works of American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. American tourism of Europe before the Civil War usually followed that of the Grand Tour, which included all the important cultural centers of France, Italy and Germany, but in the late 19th century, American artists showed increasing interest in points abroad, including Spain, the Holy Land, Egypt and much of northern Africa. American artists became interested in the aspects of nature and culture that they believed to define the Mediterranean: its distinctive flora, the legacy of the Greco-Roman past and the influence of Christianity and Islam. The results rarely depicted a homogenous image of the Mediterranean, but often focused on the visual signs of cross-sea warfare, trade and religious influence.
American Art from the Graham D. Williford Collection
The reasons for this expanded awareness are numerous. Popular travel writers such as George William Curtis, Bayard Taylor and Mark Twain attracted American attention to North Africa and the Middle East. Some American artists were encouraged to visit Spain, the Middle East and Africa by their European teachers. Wealthy collectors also drew artists to popular vacation spots such as Venice and the Nile River. Finally, religious faith prompted some Americans to visit the Holy Land and other sites important to their beliefs. While the respective reasons for Mediterranean travel differed among American artists, the visual records of their travels demonstrate a growing awareness of a palpable unity in the region. Mediterranea provides contemporary viewers with an exploration of the ways American artists understood, interpreted and portrayed Mediterranean culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This exhibition is made possible through a generous loan from the Jean and Graham Devoe Williford Charitable Trust.