The local movement is here. Buy local. Eat local. Shop local. The IMA is a world class museum (Biennale, anyone?) with a rich local connection, which is why this fall I will be introducing a new series connecting artworks from the IMA collection with historical and contemporary Indianapolis.
This work from the IMA’s permanent collection by Theodor Groll showcases late 19th century Indianapolis, the State Capitol Building and Washington Street. Groll himself was not an Indianapolis resident, but instead a prominent German artist passing through Indianapolis after judging the German entries for the World’s Exposition in Chicago.
Illuminated by gaslight electricity, the painting exhibits horse-drawn trolleys rattling down the metal tracks in Indianapolis streets. A year after this painting was completed, 1896, the first electric streetcars were introduced in Indianapolis. They were an effective mode of transportation, but were soon phased out by the even more convenient automobile. The last Indianapolis electric streetcar line closed in January of 1953.
The view also includes the brilliantly lit Park Theater directly to the east of the Capitol building. It was once called, “The most elegant theater in the west” but burned in March 1897, just two short years after this painting was complete. On the right side of the painting, the street is lined with market stalls and a dimly lit saloon, one of many in the area. The 1892 Indianapolis Business Directory listed Washington Street alone as having 74 people in the saloon trade. In the 1920’s, Prohibition put many of these locally renowned establishments out of business.
If you view historical photos like those from the Indiana Historical Society archives, you will see that Groll’s representation of Indianapolis was somewhat idealized. In fact he finished his painting in Germany using memory, photographs and sketches he had taken while in the city. The painting is fairly accurate except for the sunset appearing to the Northeast, and the distortion of the Capitol building resting on the edge of the street. As you can see in this contemporary photo, it actually sits back much farther.
Instead of streetcars we now have IndyGo buses. There are no longer horse-drawn carts and daily markets, but cars and franchise businesses. If you look closely at the painting you can see men and women talking, citizens engaged in commerce, and those headed home in their wagons after a long day in the city. A boy walking his dog, a woman and child walking hand in hand and the formidable State Capitol aren’t much different than what you would see today.
Groll’s painting is a refreshing snapshot of nostalgia and is currently on view on the second floor in American Art. Come take a look!