Visual Arts

Exhibition goes clubbing

The call of Paul Revere announces the public exhibition of a collection of distinguished artwork that, until now, has been known to only a few in Kentucky.

The British Are Coming! Discover the New English Art Club opens Sunday at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky.

The exhibition features an astounding number of works by contemporary members of the New English Art Club, works that had been in the hands of many private collectors, all in Kentucky.

"Working with a private collector is like seeing hidden treasures," said Stephanie Pevec, the guest curator for the show.

The contemporary work of the New English Art Club might not be widely known, many people will recognize the prestige of its founders. The club was formed in England in 1885 by a group of artists that included John Singer Sargent. The artists had all studied in Paris and were influenced by the French impressionists. They decided to create a show to rival that of the more traditional Royal Academy of Arts.

Even as the Royal Academy began to stray from its roots, delving into abstraction, members of the New English Art Club persevered in their tradition of "figurative work."

"They believe drawing is the foundation of art," Pevec said of the artists.

The skill that comes from serious drawing study is clear in all of the works, some of which are extremely realistic, while others show their impressionistic roots. There are portraits, landscapes and cityscapes, all of the utmost quality. Materials include oil paints, watercolors, pastel and acrylics.

The exhibition represents 30 years of collecting, and often the art purchases have generated long- standing friendships between the artists and the collectors. The collectors were the ones who contacted UK about the possibility of an exhibition.

The show took two years to assemble, and it gave Pevec the chance to travel to London and meet many of the artists and visit their homes and studios.

Pevec reflected on the various visits, from the country cottage of the recently deceased John Ward to the small row house of Benjamin Sullivan.

"It gave me a strong understanding of this group and an intimate knowledge of some of the artists in it," she said. She noted how the artists work together as peers and are celebrated as a whole, in contrast to American artists who are often more independent.

"This is really the opening preview of a show that could travel," said Pevec, adding that the show would require some adaptation for other locations but would be ideal to tour university museums.

"For students to come and look at this work," she said, "it's an example of what they can aspire to."