Figures in pastel-colored garments hold hands and dance in a circle on a background that resembles a starry sky with an illuminated sun at the center.
Coming soon

Exhibition: The Dance of Life: Figure and Imagination in American Art, 1876–1917

In an era of sweeping change following the devastation of the Civil War, an ambitious generation of American artists adopted the human figure as their focus. Showcasing more than one hundred studies related to major commissions for the Boston Public Library, Library of Congress, Pennsylvania State Capitol, and other civic institutions, The Dance of Life explores the American Renaissance, a pivotal yet neglected period in American art. More than the final murals and monuments—executed mostly by assistants—these expressions of ideas in formation show the artists in dialogue with the urgent questions of their time. On view are intimate pencil sketches, sensuous pastels, dynamic bronzes, and virtuosic oil studies by Edwin Austin Abbey, Edwin Blashfield, Daniel Chester French, Violet Oakley, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and John Singer Sargent—celebrated artists then and now. Displayed alongside are works by talents deserving of more attention, including Meta Warrick Fuller, Evelyn Longman, and Gari Melchers. Featuring vibrant artworks rarely seen in public, the exhibition reveals how artists shaped their visions, learned from one another, and developed a visual language that captivated a divided nation.

Read more about the exhibition in the spring 2024 magazine (PDF).

A round painting. Figures process in a circle around its entire outer edge, with their heads toward the center of the painting. The background resembles a starry sky, its darker half illuminated by the moon and its lighter half by the sun. While most of the figures on the sun side hold hands and dance in pastel-colored garments, those on the moon side are variously garbed in dark, hooded cloaks.

Edwin Austin Abbey, Study for The Hours in the Pennsylvania State Capitol, ca. 1909–11. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Collection, 1937.1716

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Exhibition and publication made possible by Jerald Dillon Fessenden, B.A. 1960; Clifford Ross, B.A. 1974; the Henry Luce Foundation; the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc.; the Wyeth Foundation for American Art; the Rosalee and David McCullough Fund; the Eugénie Prendergast Fund for American Art, given by Jan and Warren Adelson; the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts Fund; and the Friends of American Arts at Yale Exhibition and Publication Endowment Funds. Organized by Mark D. Mitchell, the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.


The Henry Luce Foundation logo. 
The Wyeth Foundation for American Art.