“Richard Estes’ Realism” is the most comprehensive exhibition of Estes’ paintings ever organized. A master of contemporary realism, Estes is primarily known as a painter of urban scenes. The exhibition features 46 paintings spanning a 50-year career, including a number of works from private collections that are rarely seen publically. The exhibition also shows, for the first time, Estes’ panoramic landscape paintings and water scenes alongside his more famous cityscapes, offering new insights into Estes’ particular vision.

Jointly organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine, the artworks in “Richard Estes’ Realism” are selected by Patterson Sims, independent curator, and Jessica May, chief curator at the Portland Museum of Art. Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is coordinating the exhibition in Washington, D.C. The exhibitionwill be on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from Oct. 10 through Feb. 8, 2015; this is the final stop for the tour.

“American audiences are long overdue for a careful reassessment of Richard Estes’ work,” said Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “His paintings are rewardingly inexhaustible, and each viewing yields new discoveries.”

The exhibition is the first complete overview of Estes’s work in the U.S. since 1978. It explores the full range of Estes’ career as a painter, with works from the late 1960s to 2013. Paintings in the exhibition balance Estes’ interest in cities-London, New York, Paris, Tokyo-with luminous sunlit scenes of Venice and Antarctica as well as his explorations of the Maine coast and the woods on Mount Desert Island, where he has spent part of each year since the late 1970s. Recently, Estes has captured nocturnal images of New York City, and several examples are on display. A number of Estes’ rare portraits and self-portraits also are included in the exhibition.

“Estes is a master of contemporary realism whose sharply focused technique goes beyond the photograph to create complex constructions of light, reflection and perspective,” said Mecklenburg.

Part of Estes’ unmistakable singularity has to do with the fact that he has been making his own photographs since he was a young boy. Estes’ compositions-amalgamations of the multiple photographs he takes for each composition-are dramatic and complex to the point of abstraction. He layers and merges multiple viewpoints to create dense and detailed scenes that reward the viewer with careful looking. His images are more sophisticated than they appear to be at first glance.

“I think of the photograph as a sketch to be used, not a goal to be reached,” said Estes.

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