Tags for: Imagination in the Age of Reason
  • Special Exhibition

Imagination in the Age of Reason

Saturday, September 28, 2024–Sunday, March 2, 2025
Location:  101A–B Prints and Drawings
James and Hannah Bartlett Gallery

About The Exhibition

Although the Enlightenment period in Europe (about 1685–1815) has long been celebrated as “the age of reason,” it was also a time of imagination when artists across Europe incorporated elements of fantasy and folly into their work in creative new ways. Imagination in the Age of Reason, pulled from the CMA’s rich holdings of 18th-century European prints and drawings, explores the complex relationship between imagination and the Enlightenment’s ideals of truth and knowledge. During this unprecedented time, artists used their imaginations in multifaceted ways to depict, understand, and critique the world around them.

The Enlightenment adopted a revolutionary emphasis on individual liberty, direct observation, and rational thought. Enlightenment society valued learning and innovation, encouraging an unprecedented flowering of knowledge with major advances in fields as diverse as art, philosophy, politics, and science. Important thinkers of the time questioned long-held beliefs, instead using scientific reasoning to uncover new, objective principles on which to base a modern society, free from superstition, passion, and prejudice. 

During this same period, a number of artists reveled in the power of the imagination to expose hidden truths, conjure strange worlds, or concoct illusions. François Boucher and Francisco de Goya, among others, drew on their imaginations to devise novel compositions, envision far-off places and people, attract new buyers for their art, and comment on society and its values. They also blurred the boundaries of fact and fantasy, incorporating real and invented elements into their compositions, often without distinguishing between the two. Imagination was a dynamic tool through which Enlightenment-era artists marketed their work, revealed or obscured truth, entertained or educated viewers, and supported or criticized systems of power. 

The exhibition presents an exceptional opportunity to see exciting recent acquisitions on view for the first time as well as rarely shown collection highlights, including prints and drawings by Canaletto and Goya and a pastel portrait by Swiss artist Jean-Étienne Liotard.


This exhibition is made possible with support from the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, Case Western Reserve University.

Principal annual support is provided by Michael Frank and the late Pat Snyder, the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation, the John and Jeanette Walton Exhibition Fund, and Margaret and Loyal Wilson. Generous annual support is provided by two anonymous supporters, Gini and Randy Barbato, the late Dick Blum and Harriet Warm, Gary and Katy Brahler, Cynthia and Dale Brogan, Dr. Ben and Julia Brouhard, Brenda and Marshall Brown, Richard and Dian Disantis, the Jeffery Wallace Ellis Trust in memory of Lloyd H. Ellis Jr., Leigh and Andy Fabens, the Frankino-Dodero Family Fund for Exhibitions Endowment, Florence Kahane Goodman, Janice Hammond and Edward Hemmelgarn, Marta Jack and the late Donald M. Jack Jr., Carl T. Jagatich, Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, William S. and Margaret F. Lipscomb, Bill and Joyce Litzler, the Roy Minoff Family Fund, Lu Anne and the late Carl Morrison, Jeffrey Mostade and Eric Nilson and Varun Shetty, Tim O’Brien and Breck Platner, William J. and Katherine T. O’Neill, Michael and Cindy Resch, Betty T. and David M. Schneider, Paula and Eugene Stevens, the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Claudia Woods and David Osage.