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The Wreck by Frederick Church

The James Cowan Collection

On an April day in 1927, twenty-one crates arrived in Nashville from Grand Central Galleries in New York City. These were the first of three shipments of paintings from an anonymous donor to the city of Nashville. Some three years later, upon his death, James M. Cowan was revealed as the patron who had donated his paintings to our city. The Cowan Collection, as it is known today, is an assemblage of sixty-three paintings donated to Nashville, to be housed in the Parthenon.

Mr. Cowan, born in 1858, was a successful insurance executive, who began collecting art while in his thirties and who, by his death, had amassed some seven hundred pieces of art. James Cowan spent a portion of his childhood in Tennessee, and he considered our state his ancestral home, because several of his immediate relatives were buried in Tullahoma, Tennessee. In 1897, Mr. Cowan was invited to participate in the Centennial Exposition, held at the future site of what is today known as Centennial Park. He was quite impressed with the people he met during his stay, and that further strengthened his admiration of Tennessee.

The Cowan Collection spans the years 1765-1923. Mr. Cowan was very specific in the choices for his collection, and in the interests they displayed. His selection of works emphasizes the landscape and seascape more than any other subject matter. And the technical styles vary from the smooth almost non-brushstroke of the Neo-Classic, to the impasto and laded brush work of Impressionism. It is also important to note that all of the artists in this collection were American, most of whom were also members of the National Academy.

fair entrance

A Day at the Fair with the David Ewing Collection

In an era when travel was limited, world’s fairs and similar expositions brought the world to people where they lived. The state of Tennessee chose to celebrate its one-hundredth birthday in 1897 with an exposition whose mission was both economic and cultural and which was designed to help heal the deep wounds left by the Civil War.

Local attorney and collector David Ewing, a ninth generation Nashvillian, has loaned his extensive collection of objects related to the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition to the Parthenon Museum in order to share his fascination with the fair and inspire a similar interest in others. The Parthenon invites you to A Day at the Fair, created with objects from Mr. Ewing’s collection. This exhibit is intended to give modern-day travelers a feel for what it must have been like to visit the Tennessee Centennial Exposition over a hundred years ago. Follow the historical narratives of two families as they explore the fair; delight with them in learning about new inventions; experience exhilarating rides; meet famous, much-admired people; eat unfamiliar food; and at the end of the day, exhausted, catch the train home and get some rest for the next visit to the fair.

A Day at the Fair with the David Ewing Collection opens on Friday, July 11, and will remain in the Parthenon’s West Gallery through October 26.