The Bowdoin College Museum of Art brings new perspective to its galleries in “Night Vision: Nocturnes in American Art, 1860-1960.” This show, featuring approximately 90 American works, is one of the first to gather nocturnal scenes of a wide variety of media.
The depiction of night is common in art, and the museum’s staff was intrigued by the subject’s appeal. The time period the staff chose to focus on is bookended by two important times in illuminating the night—the dawn of electricity in the mid-19th century and the beginning of the Space Age in the 1960s.

“It’s interesting to think about why artists are drawn to the night,” said Museum Co-Director Frank Goodyear. “Is it the challenge of painting or printing or photographing in darkness? Is it the visual effects that create interesting artistic moments? Is it the quality of life during the night that interests artists?”

Joachim Homann, the museum curator, realized that two of Bowdoin’s most beloved American paintings—Winslow Homer’s “The Fountains at Night” and Andrew Wyeth’s “Night Hauling”—both featured night images. 

“If people were talking about American paintings in our collection, they were often remarking on those two and how fond they were of them,” said Homann. “I realized that they were both nocturnal scenes.”

Soon after, Homann began building a show from Bowdoin’s collection and loans from other museums. The Museum has amassed close to 90 pieces for the show, a third of which are from Bowdoin’s collection. The others have been lent by 30 other galleries, including works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Of the 90 works, Frank Goodyear recommends Bowdoin’s own “Fountains at Night” by Winslow Homer.

“It really directly addresses the theme of the show, which is what it is like to paint at night,” he said. “In particular, “Fountains at Night” [addresses] how does electrical light illuminate a scene.” 

“It is an exhibition that very much looks at both the literalness of nighttime and transition but also metaphorically what that means,” Museum Co-Director Anne Goodyear added.
One work in the exhibition falls outside the 100-year time period on which the show focuses: Michel Auder’s video installation, which explores the night from the perspective of an apartment in New York City. 

“It provides a counterpoint to the “Night Vision” show from a contemporary perspective,” said Homann. “It’s beautiful and poetic work, but it’s also a little creepy, but it’s about seeing what other people are doing at night. Michel Auder is experiencing things in the night that really resonate with things that have happened in the last 100 years before him.”

The Museum also arranged auxiliary work to accompany the main gallery shows. A series of artists and art historians, including scholar Alexander Nemerov and artist Richard Bosman, will appear this fall. The Museum has also produced a catalogue book of essays and artwork to accompany the show.

“The experience of the exhibition is very local, and the book helps us to engage audiences globally,” said Homann. “It helps to spread the reputation of the College far beyond the campus."

The catalogue and lectures have also helped transition the show from its summer phase into a fall one geared for students and academics.

“Night Vision” closes on October 18. The Student Night at the Museum on September 25, which opens the galleries at night for a cappella, hors d’oeuvres and art, is another opportunity for students to view the exhibition. 

“[The show] really is an opportunity in a very succinct fashion for students to come and get to know the collection better but above all to think about their own dreams and the things that draw them forward,” said Anne Goodyear.