The development of painting in the USA. The Colonial Period. The First American Revolution and the young republic. The Era of Jacksonian Democracy. The main genres of painting and their representatives. Landscape painting, still life and history painting.
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American art encompasses the history of painting and visual art in the United States. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, artists primarily painted landscapes and portraits in a realistic style. A parallel development taking shape in rural America was the American craft movement, which began as a reaction to the industrial revolution. Developments in modern art in Europe came to America from exhibitions in New York City such as the Armory Show in 1913. Previously American Artists had based the majority of their work on Western Painting and European Arts. After World War II, New York replaced Paris as the center of the art world. Since then many American Movements have shaped Modern and Post Modern art. Art in the United States today covers a huge range of styles.
After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which marked the official beginning of the American national identity, the new nation needed a history, and part of that history would be expressed visually. Most of early American art (from the late 18th century through the early 19th century) consists of history painting and portraits. Painters such as Gilbert Stuart made portraits of the newly elected government officials, while John Singleton Copley was painting emblematic portraits for the increasingly prosperous merchant class, and painters such as John Trumbull were making large battle scenes of the Revolutionary War.
America's first well-known school of painting--the Hudson River School--appeared in 1820. The Hudson River painters' directness and simplicity of vision influenced such later artists as Winslow Homer (1836-1910), who depicted rural America--the sea, the mountains, and the people who lived near them. Middle-class city life found its painter in Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), an uncompromising realist whose unflinching honesty undercut the genteel preference for romantic sentimentalism. Henry Ossawa Tanner who studied with Thomas Eakins was one of the first important African American painters.
Many painters who are considered American spent some time in Europe and met other European artists in Paris and London, such as Mary Cassatt and Whistler.
There are a lot of museums in the USA which are filled of tourists every year. The most famous of them are American Museum of Natural History which includes anthropological collections from Mexico and Central America, the Museum of Modern Art which is famous for its modern works of architecture, drawings, paintings, sculpture, books, etc. The National Gallery of Art includes collections of paintings, prints, medals donated by Andrew W. Mellon, Paul Mellon, Samuel Henry Kress and so on.
This course work seeks to provide an accurate and systematic description of American art. The work is aimed at the studying the development of American art, the effect of various events in the country on it, the most famous museums, art galleries, genres of painting and its representatives.
While preparing this course work the material has been taken from the books on American Art, the articles in encyclopedia and Internet.
1. The development of painting in the USA
1.1 The Colonial Period
American culture has not been isolated from world culture. The American art in its development absorbed and assimilated many different influences. In spite of numerous influences American art in its best examples is not imitative; it is characterized by bright national peculiarities. It is American in subject matter, in emotional and intellectual content, and in style. It is much younger than the art of the Old World. It was roughly a hundred years after the death of Raphael that the first permanent English settlements appeared in America. The earliest American painting that has come down to us dates from about the middle of the seventeenth century when Velasquez in Spain and Rembrandt in the Netherlands were creating their masterpieces.
In the course of three centuries, American painting has passed through a long and complex period of development from earnest attempts by early limners through a budding florescence in the late eighteenth century to its highly contradictory state in modern times, which are torn by a fierce struggle between progressive realist traditions and the reactionary formalistic experimentation of modernism. It is a strong realist tradition which constitutes a distinct feature of American painting. It is this realist tradition that has given the world a long list of brilliant, gifted artists who have reflected in their art the spirit of the advanced social movements and progressive ideas of the American people.
American art had to develop under adverse conditions: engaged in subduing the wilderness and struggling for survival in the new, unexplored land, the colonists had little time and interest in any but utilitarian art.
Most of the colonial artists, including some of the best, were self-taught. Many of them were artisans -- carpenters, shipwrights, house painters, sign and carriage painters. Some went on to more sophistication, but most remained essentially primitive. Early America had a much larger proportion of folk artists than Europe.
The folk artist had certain qualities that the more sophisticated artist had lost. He went straight to the heart of things. Instinctively, without theorizing, he knew that art is not the photographic copying of nature, but the `creation of a pictorial equivalent of nature in physical materials -- canvas, pigment, stone or wood. He retained the craftsman's respect for the physical substance and structure of the work of art. His eye was an innocent one, concerned more with the object itself than its appearance. He had an innate gift for simplification, for recording the essentials. And he had an instinctive feeling for form and line and colour, and the patterns they created. Hence his art, within definite limits, represented something sound and pure.
Most folk art was created directly out of reality, out of local and specific content, which gave it a strong native flavour. Sometimes it contained reminiscences of whatever art its producer might have seen -- prints, textiles, porcelain or the instruction books that took the place of art schools. But all this was translated into folk language.
This native flavour appeared early in the untrained limners who painted portraits in the colonies from the middle seventeenth century on. Many of them were travelling artists - who went from town to town, sometimes with stock portraits already painted except for the sitter's individual face, hands and accessories. They seldom bothered to sign their works. So most of them have remained anonymous.
In style the limners varied from colony to colony and from artist to artist, ranging from the severity of certain New England painters to the naive elegance of the New York and Hudson River artists. But they had in common the primitive virtues of honesty, an instinct for colour, line and decorative pattern, and above all. the physical integrity that marks the primitive in every age and land.
In the eighteenth century the colonies had become prosperous enough to attract professional painters from England and European countries, Justus Engelhardt Kuhn, a German artist, settled in 1708 at Annapolis; GustavusHesselius, a Swede, in 1711 in Philadelphia; Jeremiah Theus, a Swiss, in 1739 in Charleston; John Smibert in 1730 in Boston. John Wollasion arrived in New , York in 1749 and Joseph Blackburn in Boston in 1753. Both of them painted in the colonies for about twenty years. These artists of European origin and training represented professional standards and had some influence on American art as it emerged. But , by the middle of the eighteenth century it was already not the immigrant artists but the -native ones who left a significant heritage.
The two most gifted native-born artists who grew out of the general colonial tradition were R. Feke and J. S, Copley[1, p. 10-14 ].
1.2 The First American Revolution and the young republic
The American Revolution of 1775--83 laid the basis for the rapid development of industry, culture and art in the young republic. The general patriotic and heroic enthusiasm of the period gave rise to an upsurge in the spiritual and creative sphere of activities. A new, important stage in the history of American art began. National consolidation, growth of national consciousness and wide dissemination of democratic ideas were powerful factors in the formation of American art. Without severing its ties with European culture it was acquiring an increasingly national character. If the self-taught artist was typical in colonial American painting, now professional artists trained in the established academies of England or France took over the leadership. A distinct American school in portraiture and depiction of historical events was evident by 1800. It was characterized by the choice of American subject matter and the blending of native genius with influences from abroad. Portraiture remained dominant but the artists of the revolutionary generation filled their portraits with heroic, romantic content; they produced historic paintings commemorating contemporary events filled with revolutionary pathos [ 6, p. 386 ].
This contemporary pathos was conveyed by John Trumbull who was the first of the American artists to return home to the young republic “after a course of studies under Benjamin West in London. Trumbull is known primarily as the painter of the Revolution. While studying under West in London, Trumbull framed a vast project -- to depict a series of scenes from American history. He was encouraged by West, and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson assisted him in selecting twelve episodes from the American Revolution. The next decade, working in London, Paris and the United States, he produced twelve small dramatic compositions as studies for projected murals. In these canvases the artist recreated the high moments of the Revolution together with portraits of its great leaders. Eight of them are his most impressive works. It is due to these paintings that the artist's fame has survived for over 150 years, “they may have their defects but even now they recall the Revolution's vigour and romance. In such powerful works as the Battle of Bunker's Hill, The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, and The Declaration of Independence Trumbull has drawn the spectator to the spot at decisive moments and has shown what the architects of American independence looked like. The Declaration of Independence (1786--97) is a painting of particular historical significance. Sitting at a table is John Hancock, standing before him are John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.This is how E. H, Silverman describes the creation of this composition: “But it is in Trumbull's most ambitious work. The Declaration of Independence, that one can best gauge the lengths to which the artist would go to ensure reality. The idea for the painting was originally suggested by Thomas Jefferson, a good friend in Trumbull's early years. To obtain the portraits of all the sinners of the Declaration, the artist went to considerable trouble. He painted Jefferson in Paris and John Adams in London. Most of the others he did in the United States between 1789 and 1794, visiting many eastern and southern cities. Altogether he painted 36 from life, nine from portraits by other artists, and two from memory.”
But Trumbull had to wait for 30 years until in 1817 Congress voted $32000 commissioned him to paint four of his revolutionary subjects as murals for the rotunda of the new Capitol in Washington. But the commission came too late -- Trumbull was not able to convey the« fire, plasticity and technical brilliance of his earlier sketches to large works.
The eight original sketches especially the battle pictures, and the small, almost miniature, portrait studies for the series are unquestionably Trumbull's finest work[ 1, p. 17-18 ].
Classical and romantic tendencies penetrated into American art in the early nineteenth century. An attempt to transfer classicism into American painting was made by John Vanderlyn who was the first American to study in France rather than in England. His first classical subject Marius on the Ruins of Carthage (1807), exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1808, won him a gold medal. Napoleon tried to purchase the picture for the Louvre, but Vanderlyn demurred. His best known work Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos, painted in Paris in 1812, is the most successful ideal nude produced by an American artist. This lucid, controlled and brilliantly painted nude reveals Vanderlyn's remarkable talent. In 1815 Vanderlyn returned to America and exhibited Ariadne and some other paintings that had won him fame in Paris. But in America Vanderlyn's neoclassical works brought him neither success nor fame. Puritanic America was shocked, the prudish New Yorkers saw in the unabashed nudity of the classic heroine a shocking witness to the depraving influence of European taste [ 9, p. 130-134 ].
1.3 The Era of Jacksonian Democracy
The close of the heroic period in American history brought about a decline in American art. This decline was connected with the advent of the Jacksonian era with its rapid development of capitalist relations, westward expansion and democratization of taste. The middle class grew in numbers and affluence. After the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1828 all sorts of profiteers, businessmen and adventurers who were making huge fortunes began to play a leading and predominant role in the social and political fife of the country. By the middle of the century they had formed a numerous and ponderable layer of American society. It was this self-opinionated, presumptuous and self-seeking middle class, hopelessly prosaic and culturally backward that determined the low level of current taste. American art was deeply affected by this leveling influence of “democratization”. Until the mid century portraiture retained its predominance, the demand for portraits even increased. Never had portrait production been so plentiful as in this period and never had portraits been so dull and characterless. With a few exception it was a deadly dull run-of-the-mill product, a stream of mediocre, largely routine, almost indistinguishable likenesses with neither character nor artistic interest. These flattering, idealized and sentimental portraits with literal and naturalistic depiction of detail conformed to the taste of the period “and met the requirements of the bourgeois clientele.
Even Sully yielded to the corrupt tastes of “Jacksonian democracy”. With the close of the heroic period in American history his art began to deteriorate and after the 1820s he produced few good portraits. But “in comparison with Sully,” Milton Brown remarks, “his contemporaries were as determinedly pedestrian as their sitters were middle class. Aristocratic airs and psychological vitality had given way to the staidly sober and the conventionally pretty.”
Among the portraitists of the time, the suppliers of idealizedportraits, were Charles Elliott, Samuel Morse, John Neagle, Chester Harding, Samuel Waldo, John Jarvis, but the most popular, no doubt, was George P. A. Healy, who was fantastically prolific. He returned to America for less than twelve years, but during this time, he painted more than five hundred portraits. Some of the earlier works of these artists were interesting but the bulk of the later output is dry and tiresome [ 1, p. 17-20 ]. painting american history landscape
A peculiar feature of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American art was the richness and variety of folk painting. In America folk painting played a much more important role than in European art. Many self-taught but able itinerant artists rambled over the countryside and now and then produced masterful works. They painted portraits, landscapes, houses, ships, still lifes, tavern signs, pictures of funerals. In many respects their works are similar to the paintings of the early limners. Most folk paintings have a certain degree of flatness. The figures have hard edges and clear boundaries marking the limits of the subject in space. Another feature of folk art is that the painter's vision is direct. Folk artists avoid sophisticated poses, striking estures and props. They display artistic innocence and spontaneity, he most gifted folk artist of the nineteenth century was Edward Hicks (1780--1849), a coach and ornamental painter and a prominent Quaker preacher in Newtown, Pennsylvania. His work represents an exceptional example of folk unprofessional art. His best-known work is a naive romantic Utopia The Peaceable Kingdom. This was his favourite theme and he returned to it over and over again, producing between 1816 and 1849 nearly one hundred versions.
The West exerted a strong pull on the imagination of nineteenth-century Americans. The life of the Indians, the bitter conflict between Indians and settlers, daily life in the new raw communities provided subject matter of great novelty. Many artists went west to paint Indian life. The first important painter of Indians was George Catlin (1796--1872). The works that Indian painters produced before him have only historic or ethnographic interest. George Catlin was brave enough to venture into Indian encampments and spent eight years among the Indians of the Great Plains. He was obsessed with the desire to record pictorially the still living culture of the American Indian, to “snatch from hasty oblivion… a truly lofty and noble race”. With great sympathy he recorded the customs and habits of the various tribes and produced many portraits of Indian chiefs and other individuals who impressed him. He developed a swift, direct field style that enabled him to depict as many as half a dozen subjects a day.
In general the American attitude toward the Indian before the nineteenth century had been unequivocal -- the only good one was a dead one. By 1830 the Indians had either been brutally exterminated or driven beyond the Mississippi, and in the vastness of the western plains they no longer posed an immediate obstacle or threat. In their remoteness they could even be thought of in Romantic terms, as examples of natural man, even as heroic and tragically doomed. Their exoticism in appearance and mode of existence added to the Romantic interest, and there was some anthropological and ethnographic interest in their customs. Travel in Indian country was not especially dangerous, since the tribes tended to honor their treaty commitments, and travelers did not find it difficult to live among them, as the literary and visual evidence seems to indicate. Not until the white man began to move westward again did the period of Indian Wars end the short interlude of peace. After the annexation of California and the discovery of gold in 1848, the inevitable urge toward unification of the continent led to a national policy of extermination. Meanwhile those who were interested could collect their data.
George Catlin became and has remained identified in the public mind as the Indian painter through his long years of devoted study, the authenticity of his observation, the great body of his production, and most of all his publications and the impassioned espousal of the Indian cause in his traveling exhibition and show, Made up of paintings, Indian costumes, and artifacts, and, at times, troupes of live Indians, the whole managed with great showmanship, the show toured the United States and Europe for fifteen years.
Born in Wilkes-Barre, George Catlin practiced law in the surrounding area before turning to miniature and portrait painting in 1821, after which he plied that trade in Philadelphia, Albany, Richmond, and Washington for almost a decade. He had been captivated by the sight of a group of Indians in full regalia in the streets of Philadelphia and, years later, wrote: “The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy of the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country, and of becoming their historian.” By 1830 he was in St. Louis doing portraits of Indians, and two years later he started, out with an American Fur Company party taking the first steamboat up the Missouri 2.000 miles to Fort Union. Catlin spent almost eight years among the Indians, was the first artist to penetrate the Far West, and amassed close to six hundred paintings, which he assembled as his traveling Indian Gallery. His Letters and Notes of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians (1841) went through many editions and, aside from its ethnographic value, became a source book for artists who had never seen a live Indian. Conscious of the red man's doom, Catlin had made good his vow that through his art, phoenix-like, they “may rise from the stain of a painter's palette' “. His lack of training may actually have been a boon, for a sophisticated artist might have found the conditions under which he had to work too difficult, and those who came later and were trained could not help seeing in set formal patterns. Still, Catlin's paintings lack the intrinsic interest to match the fascination of the subject as Audubon's did. This is not to say that he lacked talent; despite his shortcomings he had an artist's eye for the dramatic sight or moment, for composition, pattern, and linear movement. His scenes of Indian life, though often not much more than short hand notations, are full of vivacity.
The native genre tradition was continued by Eastman Johnson, who painted domestic city life, country occupations and recreations, and the world of children. He was a more entertaining storyteller than his predecessors, his paintings were more technically expert than Mount's and Bingham's but inferior in depth of feeling. Most of his genre paintings are overslick in execution, sentimental emotionally and anecdotal in subject. The Johnson's most significant work is the Old Kentucky Home. It is one of the few canvases of the period that touched on social issues.
In 1859, when Eastman Johnson painted his famous Old Kentucky Home, originally entitled Negro in the South, America was embroiled in the slavery issue, and in that context this idyllic, sentimental scene seems like wishful thinking. Johnson had been studying art abroad from 1849 to 1855, first in Disseldorf, then in the Hague, where he came to admire the Dutch seventeenth-century artists, especially Rembrandt; the soft light and vaporous shadows in Old Kentucky Home owe much to Rembrandt's inspired chiaroscuro.
Perhaps Johnson had been in Europe too long, for it was naive at this time for a Northerner to conceive of happiness as compatible with servitude. Old Kentucky Home, at first glance, seems completely at variance with H. B. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: well-fed slaves are seen content and relaxed, rather than oppressed and harrassed, and no masters are in sight except for one rather benign onlooker. But the Negroes live in squalour in the shadow of the white man's large and substantial house, partially visible in the upper right-hand portion of the painting.
The human warmth radiating from the Old Kentucky Home is not evident in many of Johnson's genre paintings of 1870 and later years. His In the Fields shows a group of people engaged in picking cranberries. It is a work that suggests comparison with Old Kentucky Home, for both paintings depict groups of people at leisure. While the Negroes entertain one another by strumming guitars, gossiping, and doing an impromptu dance, the cranberry pickers tend to be absorbed in their own thoughts [ 8, p. 201-211 ].
The emergence in 1820s of landscape painting was also linked with the growth of national consciousness after the end of the war with England (1812--1816). It was the first consciously national school of American painting. Later it was termed the Hudson River School because the artists first painted views of the Hudson Valley, and the places near which they lived. The number of artists who show an affinity with the Hudson River School amounted to fifty, with T. Cole, A. B. Durand, F. E. Church and A. Bierstadt as leading exponents. The artistic value of their work is very uneven. The tastes in art of the Jacksonian era ear-mark most of the Hudson River School landscapes. With all individual differences they have certain common features. They are large in size and panoramic in scope. The typical Hudson River School scene consists of a portion of virgin landscape, extending into the distant background, often with tiny figures against it. Sometimes, as with Cole, there is also a blasted tree prominent in the foreground, to suggest to the viewer the desolation of the place. The Hudson River School landscapes were romantic but their romanticism was literal: instead of expressing romantic ideas and emotions in artistic terms they literally represented romantic subjects. Many of their compositions were theatrical showpieces calculated to impress the viewer. Their gigantic size is combined with naturalistic literalness of detail. Such landscapes drew the greatest acclaim and commanded the highest prices, even outstripping portraiture in popularity. At the same time credit should be given to the Hudson River School painters for being the first to turn to their native American scene.
The first definite school of professional landscape painting did not appear until the middle of 1820's -- what came to be called the Hudson River School. The man who can be considered its founder was not native-born. Thomas Cole, English by birth, coming to America at seventeen, spent his youth in what were then the virgin forests of Ohio. Highly romantic, strongly religious, and-with a decided literary bent, Cole on coming to New York in 1825 found a cultural climate favorable to the growth of landscape, what with Washington Irving's tales of the Hudson River Valley, James Fenimore Cooper's novels of the wilderness, and William Cullen Bryant's solemn nature poetry.
To his celebration of the American wilderness, still unravaged, Cole brought a romantic imagination, a love of solitude, and a realization of spaciousness and grandeur of this new world. He was the first to picture the wilderness with the passion of a poet, and to capture the wild beauty of the continent as it was a century and a half ago.
From the first Cole introduced a more living concept of landscape: a feeling for the life in nature, for her alterations of storm and peace, of clouds and serene light -- the whole spectacle of the wilderness and its changing aspects, presented with a new dramatic sense and technical skill. Sometimes his Byronic fantasy led him from the sublime to the ridiculous. Often a religious element appeared, for Cole was concerned not only with nature for herself but as a setting for moralistic allegories. His series of painting such as The Departure and The Return (a knight gaily leaving his castle in the morning and borne home lifeless in the evening), or The Course of Empire, tracing in five acts the rise, splendour and ruin of an imaginary ancient capital, illustrated his thoughts on the vanity of worldly power and pleasure, and true inevitable destruction that overtakes them. Most of these works were pure Hollywood, but in his finest series, The Voyage of Life, he achieved powerful pictorial drama. An artist capable of deplorable corniness, he also created the most vital landscape painting so far in America.
Next to Cole as a leader of the Hudson River School was Asher B. Durand. With him, Cole's flamboyant imagination was replaced by a sober affection for nature: His painstaking hand recorded every detail -- the lichened tree trunks, the vine-covered rocks, the flowers and weeds in the foreground. His engaging Kindred Spirits, showing Cole and Bryant in a mountain landscape, painted the year after Cole's death, was a memorial, like the poet's tribute to their mutual friend.
Cole's grandiose romanticism and Durand's literal naturalism * were the chief influences on the younger painters of the Hudson River School. These artists formed a consciously native school -the first in American art. Many of them were friends, going on walking and sketching trips together in the Catsldlls, the Adirondacks and the White Mountains. They were tremendously proud of America's national beauties -- the grandeur of her mountains, the wildness of her forests, the blazing colors of her autumn foliage. Though most of them visited Europe to paint its picturesque places, sometimes remaining for years, their admiration for their own land remained undimmed.
In the typical Hudson River landscape the canvas is enormous, the view-point panoramic; yet so meticulous is the handling that one can count every leaf. In the huge paintings of Church, Bierstadt and Moran, with which the school's grandiose tendencies culminated, the technical proficiency is astounding. Their panoramas were even more extensive than Cole's, while every detail, the exact character of every growing thing, every phenomenon of light and atmosphere and. weather, were rendered with more than photographic accuracy.
The artistic limitations of the school were obvious enough. Though contemporaries of the French romantics and the Barbizon school, they showed no awareness of the new trends that were transforming European art, or else they were definitely opposed; to them even Corot was still a revolutionary. Compared to trends in France, their artistic concepts were anachronistic. Their romanticism took the form of literal representation of romantic subjects, rather than expression of romantic emotion in the language of form and color as with Gericault and Delacroix.
But their direct contact with nature, their observation, and their skill of eye and hand, are values that have endured. In the wideranging works of Bierstadt, for example, especially in his less pretentious or highly finished canvases, one continually meets with fresh, unconventional recording of light, color and weather -the work of an acute visual observer. And Church, in a painting like Twilight in the Wilderness, achieved colour as daring as any optical painter today. If these men had been less committed to literal naturalism, if they had trusted their visual sensations more, their contribution would have been a less baffling combination of art and non-art.
In their best landscapes the character of the American land, its spaciousness and solitude, the clearness of its air, the brilliance of its light, its high remote skies, were pictured truly and with a romantic emotion that is still alive. Their works had a leisurely completeness, a feeling for nature in her myriad aspects, tragic as well as smiling, and a sense of her solid substance and moving forces, rather than her mere appearances -- qualities that were lost in the more intimate, fragmentary landscapes of their successors.
Opposed to the Hudson River School with their grandiose and stagy landscape arrangements, and their theatricality was a sizable group of artists who were moving toward an increasinglyintimate and unpretentious realism, which stressed the poetic effect of varying kinds of light on stretches of water, woodland, Or inhabited countryside. Their pictures were not so successful commercially as the paintings by Church or Bierstadt. Their paintings are distinguished by a poetic sensitivity, which found expression in the depiction of familiar scenes transmuted by the varying moods of the weather. The most sensitive of the group were Fitz Hugh Lane (1804--1865) and Martin Johnson Heade (1819--1904).
Certain other landscapists not members of the Hudson River School produced works of highly personal vision. Fitz Hugh Lane's modest views of quiet harbours and inlets along the Massachusetts and Maine coast, painted with exquisite preciseness, were pervaded by a calm serenity. Somewhat similar were Martin J. Heade's coastal scenes, in which the sense of loneliness of all-embracing light, of crystalline clarity, attained a penetrating intensity. But Heade's temperament had other sides; the rich romantic profusion of his tropical landscapes such as View of Tree Fern Walk, Jamaica; the exotic beauty of his series of South American orchids and hummingbirds; the brooding sensuousness of his flower still lifes; the threatening drama of Storm over Narragansett. His sensibility, different from the objectivity of the Hudson River painters, foretold the future development of American landscape [11, p. 313 ].
2. The main genres of painting and their representatives
Portraiture was the most popular type of painting in America from colonial times well into the nineteenth century. Most early portraitists had no formal training, but were self-taught sign- or housepainters. Typically, they traveled from town to town, supplementing their income with the commissions of local landowners and merchants. Now identified as "limners," their work provides a glimpse of early colonial life. The rising mercantile class commissioned portraits as status symbols. Sitters posed in well-appointed interiors or landscapes in their finest clothes in order to document their property, good taste, and sophistication.
The portraits of the next generation of American artists were similar in purpose, but technically more accomplished. Study abroad was often part of these artists' training. Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley were among those who traveled to Europe to study the work of the great masters and take instruction with eminent academicians. Stuart excelled at capturing the personality and psychological presence of his sitters. The theatrical British Grand Mannerportrait style was adopted by Copley and then popularized in America through work of Stuart and John Trumbull.
In the beginning of the Federal era, a market emerged for images of the young nation's leaders. Gilbert Stuart painted more than one hundred portraits ofGeorge Washington. American heroes were rarely portrayed with the pomp that surrounded European aristocracy. In keeping with the colonial values of self-determination, portraits instead referred to individual accomplishments or suggested the sitter's symbolic importance to the nation. Rembrandt Peale'sportrait of his brother documents Rubens' success with what was reputed to be the first geranium grown in America. The flowers were prized in Europe but difficult to cultivate in the United States. In this light, the work becomes not only an image of the artist's brother, but a portrait of American self-sufficiency and achievement.
Portraiture served a documentary purpose for early Americans that is fulfilled by the camera today. Miniatures, usually only a few inches high, were often the only visual record of loved ones separated by great distances. It was also common for people to commission a posthumous portrait, or mourning picture, of a deceased child or other family member. Photography became more accessible during the mid-nineteenth century, leading to a decrease in the demand for painted portraits. Nevertheless, affluent sitters still took pleasure in proclaiming their material comforts with oil and canvas. Thomas Sully's idealized, elegant images of Philadelphia society exemplify the romantic style that was popular well into the 1860s. Although now better known for his genre scenes, Eastman Johnson accepted several portrait commissions, including The Brown Family.
In the closing decades of the nineteenth century the art centers of Europe continued to attract American artists and wealthy patrons. Some American artists preferred to live abroad, where they had greater access to the great public art collections and to recent developments in contemporary art. Mary Cassatt spent much of her long career in France, combining her interest in portraiture with the new style of impressionism. John Singer Sargent became a very successful portraitist, both in Europe and America. His knack for capturing the quality of fleeting moments in time adds a layer of depth to what might otherwise be simply society portraits.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, realism was the dominant portrait style. Thomas Eakins was adept at conveying personality, portraying his subjects with unvarnished realism and penetrating psychological insight. In the 1876 portrait of his niece, Ella, Eakins lends an air of serious deliberation to a subject that is often overly sentimentalized. Best known for her portraits of children, Lydia Field Emmet incorporated characteristics of modernist techniques into her fundamentally traditional style. The resulting works are realistic portrayals that convey a sense of immediacy and the liveliness of her young subjects.
With the rise of abstraction in the twentieth century, experimentation with line, shape, and color changed artistic presentations of sitters. Arshile Gorky's The Artist and His Mother shows the influence of abstract modernist trends from Europe, including cubism and expressionism. Walt Kuhn's Wisconsin, painted during the Depression, is a portrait of an era more than an individual. In order to increase the expressive impact of the work, Kuhn created a representative portrait that could be any one of a number of people at a particular place in time. Similarly, artists in the 1960s employed images of widely recognizable figures from popular culture as compositional and expressive devices, producing icons of mass culture in the guise of portraits. Andy Warhol's images of celebrities are the quintessential example of this approach.
Portraiture in the postmodern age continues to take on new form and purpose. Chuck Close's hugely magnified images experiment with both the meaning and the process of the portrait. From a distance, Fanny appears to be a photograph, but in fact this highly detailed image is composed entirely of the artist's fingerprints. Barkley Leonnard Hendricks, best known for his highly realistic portraits of African Americans, uses painting to address issues ofculture and identity. A segment of the population traditionally underrepresented in fine art, these life-sized figures achieve iconic status through their neutral environments and their direct, serious gaze. Here, portraiture no longer solely fulfills a documentary function, but explores complex social and cultural issues [ 3 ].
2.2 Landscape painting
Landscapes, or views of nature, play a significant role in American art. The earliest American landscape paintings were topographic illustrations of farms, cities, and landmarks that were generally painted for local residents or for Europeans interested in the New World. In the colonial era, landscape views were found primarily in the backgrounds of portraits, usually to provide additional information about the sitter.
Landscape painting came to dominate American art in the 1820s, when artists began to equate the country's unspoiled wilderness with the new nation's seemingly limitless potential. Foremost among those increasingly interested in the expressive power of landscape was the young artist Thomas Cole. Cole is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River school, a loosely knit group of American artists who actively painted landscapes between 1825 and 1875. Giving stylistic direction to a distinctly American understanding of nature, Hudson River school artists invested the land with a sense of national identity, the promise of prosperity, and the presence of God.
The first generation of Hudson River school artists, represented by Asher B. Durand and Cole, believed that studying the land led to enlightenment and a connection with divine harmony. Every detail absorbed their attention, from moss-covered rocks in clear streams to snowcapped mountains. For other artists, exact documentation was less important than illustrating religious and moral sentiments. Allegorical landscapes are imaginary scenes with symbolic meaning, rather than representations of a particular place. Sometimes inspired by literature, these large-scale works illustrated high-minded themes that were usually reserved for history painting.
As industrial development pushed westward, landscape artists were documenting the American wilderness just as it was disappearing. Although George Inness' The Lackawanna Valley was commissioned by a railroad company, the finished work is not a direct homage to industrialization. At his patron's request, the artist exaggerated features of the railroad, but also prominently displayed the field of tree stumps in the foreground. Ambiguous in tone, the landscape can be read as a glorification of development or as a reminder of the price of progress [ 3 ].
In the mid-nineteenth century, the American public became increasingly interested in the far reaches of the continent. Adventurous artists made names for themselves by bringing images of the Rockies, the Sierra Nevadas, andSouth America back to East Coast audiences. George Catlin built his career on his record of the indigenous people of the Americas. Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran became known for their grandiose landscapes; their huge panoramas were meant to approximate the live viewing experience. Moran's paintings of the American West were instrumental in the establishment of Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872.
Gradually, these grand, monumental landscapes gave way to more intimate, interpretive views. For the new generation, landscape was less a stage for theatrical effects but rather a sounding board for the artist's personal emotional response. At the turn of the century, Winslow Homer specialized in outdoor scenes that captured American rural life. American impressionists experimented with rendering the evocative effects of light and atmosphere in landscape. The new aesthetic was characterized by loose brushwork, subtle tonalities, and an interest in conveying mood.
Soon after the turn of the century, a group of New York artists rejected picturesque pastoral subjects and focused instead on gritty urban scenes. Although there are some technical similarities to the work of impressionists, theurban landscapes of the Ashcan school were intended to document the grim realities of city life and spark social change. The work of Edward Hopper also has an element of social commentary. A realist artist, he painted both urban andrural subjects, but throughout there is a dimension of the isolation of American society between the World Wars. The regionalist painters, a group of artists working primarily in the Midwest during the 1930s, had a different tone but similar goals. They were interested in uniquely American activities and places, which for them meant glorifying the labor and lifestyle of rural regions.
Abstract artists of the twentieth century approached landscape with a variety of strategies. The Armory Show of 1913 brought the work of European modernists to the attention of American artists, many for the first time. Succeeding developments fostered a uniquely American abstraction, based on precedents of cubism and expressionism. John Marin's Storm over Taoscontains elements of both these movements, synthesized into a dynamic landscape. Lyonel Feininger's Storm Brewing has a different conception of a similar subject. Georgia O'Keeffe's unique form of organic abstraction involved distilling the natural world to its fundamental elements, creating works of dramatic simplicity. Joan Mitchell used the gestural painting techniques of abstract expressionism to convey her conception of the world around her. Sometimes recognizable places, sometimes only colors and textures reminiscent of landscape motifs, these works show that even in modern, industrialized society, the American landscape still has the power to elicit artistic expression [ 7 ].
2.3 Still Life
The depiction of inanimate objects is called "still life." Common subjects include flowers and fruit, tableware, books and newspapers, and musical instruments. The function of a still life may be straightforward representation, or the artist may intend to convey a more subtle, moral message. Traditionally, still lifes and still-life elements of larger compositions have complex iconographical significance. For example, the presence of books, maps, or writing materials in portraiture refers to the sitter's knowledge and education. Cut flowers, a snuffed-out candle, or signs of decay in fruit and other food represent the transience of life and are meant to remind viewers of their own mortality.
Still-life painting flourished in Europe particularly in Holland in the seventeenth century, and examples were brought to America by the Dutch. Early still-life painters in America were mainly self-taught; their work is among the best examples of early American folk art. Shop signs from this period often incorporated elements of still life-an effective method of advertising to those customers who could not read [ 9, p. 135-138 ].
The first truly accomplished American masters were members of the Peale family of Philadelphia. The Peales excelled in painting pristine tabletop groupings of glassware and fruit, as in James Peale's Fruit Still Life with Chinese Export Basket. Early nineteenth-century painters like the Peales practiced still life as a science. They possessed a deep curiosity for the natural world and felt that these detailed renderings were an extension of scientific inquiry. The works of Martin Johnson Heade are also composed in this spirit. Although created with the objective eye of a naturalist, Heade's studies of flowers and birds are invested with poetic atmosphere; they are some of the most striking still-life works in American art.
In the late nineteenth century, William Harnett, John Frederick Peto, and others used this emphasis on close observation for a different purpose. They deftly simulated shadows and reflections, colors and textures in illusionistic still lifes designed to fool the eye of the viewer. Their skill made them the leading practitioners of trompe l'oeil painting. With meticulous clarity, they depicted old books, paper money, photographs, and envelopes as if they were extending from the canvas, as in John Haberle's Imitation.
At the same time other artists adopted a different approach, showing more interest in painterly technique and the tactile qualities of objects. The still lifes of William Merritt Chase and Emil Carlsen display the influence of European art centers including Munich, Dьsseldorf, and Paris. The vigorous brushwork and impressionistic style that characterize these works has little in common with the illusionism of Harnett, but it also found favor with the American public.
In the twentieth century, still-life painting continued to be transformed by successive modernist styles. The still-life works of Charles Demuth combine the fragmented space of cubism with nuanced attention to organic forms. Charles Sheeler's precisionist still life has the clean lines and quiet solidity more often seen in his landscapes of industrial America. The constrast between accurate representation and modernist style was best explored by Georgia O'Keeffe, who uses both realism and abstractions of the natural world.
During the mid- and late twentieth century, meaning and subject matter in still-life painting was again transformed and expanded. Pop artists substituted soup and beer cans for the more traditional fruit, flowers, or books. Wayne Thiebaud expressed the optimism of America in the 1950s and 1960s with his seemingly endless arrays of cakes and pies. These objects no longer carry subtle moral messages but have become icons of a consumer-driven culture. Richard Diebenkorn's Still Life becomes a self-portrait-a study of the artist through his tools, personal items, and working environment. Throughout his career Jim Dine incorporated common objects into his work that were meaningful in his own life--such as tools, bathrobes, and hearts. Through repetition over time these objects take on meaning for the viewer as well as the artist. Dine's The Gate, Goodbye Vermont combines elements of still life and sculptural asssemblage to evoke a particular sense of place and point in time [ 3 ].
2.4 History painting
History painting records noteworthy events and documents scenes of exemplary conduct, virtue, and patriotism. From the eighteenth well into the nineteenth century it was considered the most elevated form of art. In Europe, historical subjects were usually commissioned by royalty, clergy, and governments in order to commemorate and dramatize scenes of national triumph. These works were traditionally executed on a large scale and were intended for official display.
The first great American painter of historical narratives was Benjamin West. In colonial America there was little demand for large-scale work of this sort, and West traveled to Europe in search of training and patronage. As an expatriate living in London, West achieved great success with works like The Battle of La Hogue, which represents an English victory at sea in 1692.
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