Frances Palmer, published by Currier & Ives, American Express Train (detail), 1864. Lithograph, 17 ½ x 27 ¾ in. Revisiting America: The Prints of Currier & Ives has been organized by Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.

Revisiting America: The Prints of Currier & Ives will explore how the largest printmaking company in nineteenth-century America visualized the nation’s social, political, and industrial fabric. The company is best known today for its lush, hand-colored lithographs that nostalgically depicted an idyllic republic of pioneer homesteads, sporting camps, and bucolic pastimes; however, these sentimental images comprised only one aspect of Currier & Ives’ production. The company’s inexpensive and popular prints were a ubiquitous presence for decades, and just as frequently touched on pressing social and political issues. Addressing economic development, western expansion, the Civil War, and controversies of racial and class politics, Currier & Ives portrayed scenes of urbanization, nation building, naval battles, catastrophic disasters, and current events that were far from idyllic.

Divided into five themes—Country Life, Hunting, Politics and History, Sport, and Urbanization—this exhibition reveals the surprising modernity of the firm’s prints. The works on view offer a complex and conflicted vision of America that embraced the possibilities of an emerging urban and industrial society while nostalgically celebrating the social stability of a rural ideal.

 

Revisiting America: The Prints of Currier & Ives Gallery Tour with Associate Curator Katie Wood Kirchhoff

Colgate Gallery, Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education

Timing

Jun 2, 2021 - Opening

Aug 29, 2021 - Closing

Currier & Ives was a powerhouse of 19th-century publishing and had an immeasurable influence on American visual culture. Founded in New York in 1834 by Nathaniel Currier, the company expanded to include a new partner, James Merritt Ives, after 1857. Currier & Ives produced millions of affordably priced copies of over seven thousand original lithographs, living up to its self-appointed title as “the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints.” The firm took advantage of New York City’s booming arts culture in the latter half of the 19th century, but its output was not seen as fine art by critics, nor was it intended as such. Its prints were first and foremost commodities, and the choice of subjects was often determined by popularity and sales figures. Currier & Ives perpetuated Victorian ideals in its depictions of family, history, politics, and urban and suburban life, yet these prints also serve as important records of a nation in the midst of an extraordinary transformation from a rural and agricultural landscape to an industrialized and urbanized global power.

Conagra Brands gifted its extensive collection of nearly 600 Currier & Ives prints to Joslyn Art Museum in 2016, desiring that these prints find an appreciative audience in Omaha and beyond. Along with their popular appeal, these images offer a new opportunity to uncover the complexities and contradictions of our history and help shape our understanding of America’s past.

National Game of Baseball
American Railroad Scene: Snow Bound
Camping Out: Some of the Right Sort
Arguing the Point
Great East River Bridge
Husking
The Four Seasons of Life: Middle Age
The Rocky Mountains
Preparing for Market
Central-Park, Winter: The Skating Pond
Bombardment and Capture Island Number Ten
Clipper Ship Flying Cloud