Transient Effects: The Solar Eclipses and Celestial Landscapes of Howard Russell Butler

 
Howard Russell Butler, American, 1856–1934. Solar Eclipse, Lompoc 1923. Oil on canvas. Princeton University, gift of H. Russell Butler Jr. (PP351)

On Aug 21, 2017 the first solar eclipse of this century will be visible in the U.S. The solar eclipse has always been a source of mystery and fascination, serving at some times as a foreboding omen and at others as a key means of understanding the scientific concept of general relativity.

In 1918, Howard Russell Butler (1856–1934)—a portrait and landscape artist and graduate of Princeton University’s first school of science—painted a new kind of portrait, of a very unusual sitter: the total solar eclipse. With remarkable accuracy, he captured those rare seconds when the moon disappears into darkness—crowned by the flames of the sun, whose brilliant colors had eluded photography.

This exhibition brings together experts from the sciences and art history to present the history of Butler’s unique paintings and the story of the artist who created them. It also opens up a broader historical exploration of experiments at the intersection of art and science.