Colonial art reflects that of the European colonizing nations, adapted to the dangers and harsh conditions of a vast wilderness. Spanish influences prevailed in the West, while English styles, with a leaven of Dutch and French, predominated in the East. Outside the Southwest, native styles did not exert a lasting influence on colonial art. Like colonial architecture, 17th-century colonial painting reflects English styles of at least a century earlier, which had been continued in the rural areas from which the colonists came.
The earliest paintings, all portraits, date from the 1660s in New England, a long generation after the founding of the colony. the pair John Freake and Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary (circa 1674, Worcester, Massachusetts, Art Museum). Portraiture began in the Hudson Valley area about the same time. Religious paintings and church decoration were carried out in the Southwest during the century. The french landscapist Claude Lorrain painted in the classical style Sculpture in the 17th century on the East Coast was limited to applications of the decorative arts, in the carving of furniture and the shaping of metalwork in silver and iron.
The religious figures carved in the Southwest remain at the level of inspired folk sculpture. 18th-century painting and sculpture Artists were active in several parts of the colonies. Henrietta Johnston (active 1705-29), the first American woman artist, worked in Charleston, executing the earliest pastel portraits. The most active school of painting was in the Hudson River valley, where the major landholders, or patrons, required portraits for their Dutch-style manor houses. They based their compositions on English prints.
The school culminated in the monumental full-length portraits Pieter Schuyler (circa 1719, City Hall, Albany, New York) Ariandtje Schoomans (around 1717, Albany Institute of History and Art) As the century advanced, artists with more training began to immigrate to the colonies. Immigrated in 1729 to Boston, John Smibert, a successful London portraitist. He worked in the school of the English portraitists Sir Godfrey Kneller and Thomas Hudson. By 1750 the pace of artistic activity picked up considerably, with many more artists working than before.
The talented native-born portraitist Robert Feke was Smiberts principal successor in New England Joseph Blackburn (active in America 1753-64) in New England, John Wollaston (active c. 1734-67) in New York and the mid-Atlantic colonies Jeremiah Theusin in Charleston. Two major artists of international significance emerged shortly after midcentury, Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley. Trained in Philadelphia, West left for Italy and England in late 1759, becoming dean of the English neoclassical school and president of the Royal Academy. To his studio in London he welcomed a generation of American art students, among them the portraitist Gilbert Stuart. Copley was reared in Boston.
His talents developed rapidly in the early 1760s, and he brought colonial portraiture to entirely new levels of realism and psychological depth. His finest American works are marked by an almost obsessive literalness, supported by a mastery in the rendering of light and textures. Copleys work during the decade before his departure (1774) for England represents the apex of painting in the colonial period. Early 19th-century painting Painting languished during the revolution. The commissions of the Continental Congress went to the Philadelphian Charles Willson Peale, creator of the first monumental portraits of George Washington.
The prosperity that followed the Revolution supported a flowering of semi trained or folk portraiture in New England, headed by Ralph Earl. Ralph Earl was the leading artist who returned from England after the Revolution who had been trained by Benjamin West in the neoclassical school of painting. Gilbert Stuart was the finest portraitist of the generation, his skillful brushwork capturing the likenesses of many chief figures of the Federal period, including Washington Athenaeum” portrayal (1796, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
John Trumbull returned to become the nations first history painter, recording the great moments of the Revolution in a series of paintings. The Declaration of Independence (1794, Yale University Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut) The Battle of Bunkers Hill (1789, Yale University Gallery), later versions (1817-24) An outstanding American romantic painter was Washington Allston, who returned from England in 1808 to produce landscapes and history paintings of great imaginative force.
Until at least 1840 painting continued to be dominated by portraiture in the romantic manner. Thomas Sully created richly colored, strongly contrasted, and idealized images in the English manner of the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence. Another leading romantic portraitist was Samuel F. B. Morse, perhaps the most talented artist of his generation before he turned his full attention to the development of telegraphy. Among the most outstanding painters of the genre school that arose were William Sidney Mount, who recorded the daily lives of Long Island farmers
Bargaining for a Horse (1835, New-York Historical Society, New York City) George Caleb Bingham, who lived in the far west of the day and painted scenes from the lives of the fur traders and flatboatmen along the Mississippi River. Landscape painting emerged about 1835 as the strongest and most original current in American art, and remained dominant during much of the 19th century. The founder of what is called the Hudson River School was Thomas Cole, who in the late 1820s began to paint highly dramatic, romantic landscapes.
Coles distinctive contribution was his vision of the awesome majesty of the American wilderness, especially along the banks of the Hudson River, which he captured in his vigorous brushwork. The second generation of the Hudson River School, working between about 1850 and 1870, approached landscape with the midcenturys clear realism. Concentrating on effects of light and atmosphere (in a manner known as luminism), they produced extremely detailed paintings in a precise technique that left hardly any trace of brushwork.
The leading figure of this generation was Coles only pupil, Frederick E. Church. Niagara Falls (1857, Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D. C. ) South American wonders such as Cotopaxi (1863, Reading, Pennsylvania, Public Museum and Art Gallery) The German-trained Albert Bierstadt had a similar success with large, theatrical paintings of Rocky Mountain scenery. Fitz Hugh Lane painted crystalline views of New England harbors. John F. Kensett and Martin J. Heade painted modest-sized landscapes in the luminist manner. At the same time, still-life painting flourished as the second most important genre.
History painting also flourished between about 1845 and 1860, rincipally in the manner learned by Americans at the art academy in Dsseldorf, Germany, and exemplified in the colossal Washington Crossing the Delaware (1848, Metropolitan Museum, New York City), by Emanuel Leutze. Events of the Revolution again served as a chief source of theme Early 19th-century sculpture American sculpture in a formal sense began with William Rush, who evolved from a leading carver of ship figureheads to creator of the first monumental American sculptures Comedy and Tragedy (1808, Edwin Forrest Home, Philadelphia).
White Marble was the preferred medium until 1865 Hiram Powers made his reputation with what became the most widely admired of all American marble sculptures nude Greek Slave (1843, six replicas). This first generation produced relatively severe, compact, idealized Greek sculptures in the cool spirit of the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova and the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The more accurate emotional response and baroque taste of the mid-19th century emphasized itself in detailed, sentimental, and dramatic sculptures.
The Cleopatra (1858, three versions) by William W. Story. Late 19th-century early 20th-century paintings Number of artists after the Civil War greatly improved Artists communication with Europe and their awareness of a wider range of current styles grew Artists expanded their interests to include new subjects and a wider range of media. Landscape painting culminated in the established work of George Inness. Drawing on the example of the French Barbizon school, Inness added to his American naturalism a taste for the moods of nature.
Using increasingly rich color, he developed a poetic manner. A fascination with technique was characteristic of the academically better trained artists of the late 19th century. During the 1870s a group of Americans, including Frank Duveneck, William Merritt Chase, and J. Frank Currier, studied painting at the Munich Academy, where they acquired a bold and brilliant alla prima (rapid completion) technique. Another master who emerged during the 1870s was the facile John Singer Sargent, the most popular Anglo-American portraitist of his time.
The two foremost painters of 19th-century American life were Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. Starting his career as an illustrator, Homer began to paint the life of rural America, particularly the world of children Snap the Whip (1872, Butler Institute, Youngstown, Ohio). In the 1880s Homer turned his attention primarily to the dangerous life of deep-sea fishermen, finding in the struggle against the treacherous sea a metaphor for the helplessness of humans before their fate.
The Fox Hunt (1893, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) The Gulf Stream (1899, Metropolitan Museum). Homers finest works achieve a depth of vision and mastery of design that has seldom been surpassed in American art. Eakinss realism began with a highly scientific naturalism, as in his series of boating pictures done in the 1870s. In the 1880s and 90s he brought this realist vision to bear mainly in portraiture. His greatest achievement was his portrait of Dr. Samuel Gross demonstrating a surgical procedure to a class.
Contemporary audiences were shocked by the unflinching realism of the large portrait, particularly by the blood on the hand of the lecturing surgeon. The Gross Clinic (1875, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia). In his other portraits Eakins regularly achieved a penetrating insight and clear understanding of form. Realism of a less profound kind was brought to perfection in the illusionistic still-life painting of William M. Harnett and his followers in the last two decades of the century.
Their complete control of textures and lighting gave the objects in their paintings a sense of solidity and actuality that was meant to fool the eye. At the same time, the romantic current in American art, strong since the time of Washington Allston, found expression in the new landscape school, in the poetic works of William Morris Hunt and John La Farge, and in the gloomy expressionistic creations of Ralph Blakelock, best known for his moonlit nocturnes, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, whose imaginary subjects reveal an inner vision of great intensity.
Perhaps the most admired and influential artist throughout the Western world at the turn of the century was James Abbott McNeill Whistler Worked abroad most of his career Developed and advanced principles of nearly abstract surface design and unified color. Another important expatriate artist was Mary Cassatt, who was closely associated with the French impressionists, in particular with Edgar Degas; her admiration for Japanese prints is reflected in many of her paintings after 1890 of her favorite theme, the mother and child.
Partly through the influence of Cassatt on American collectors, American artists who painted in the impressionist style found support here, and they formed the most vigorous school of impressionism outside France. The two reigning styles at the turn of the centurythe academic style, with its ideal subjects, and impressionism, with its focus on patrician country lifeboth ignored the urban scene. In the early years of the century Robert Henri advocated more contemporary subjects to his students, including George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn.
These artists drew on their earlier experience as newspaper illustrators to capture the vitality, variety, and color of urban life. The sketchy appearance and frank realism of their paintings brought official rejection; n 1908 these artists exhibited together as part of a group called The Eight. As an advanced movement, The Eight (some members of which were also known as the Ashcan school) had a relatively short life, being supplanted by the wave of modernism following the Armory Show, the epochal exhibition of modern European art held in a New York City armory in 1913.
George W. Bellows also used his vigorous brushwork to express the vitality of the urban scene Cliff Dwellers (1913, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), depicting street life among the immigrants in New York City. Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Sculpture French influence dominated American sculpture during the period following the Civil War, when virtually every leading sculptor studied in Paris. Bronze, an inherently more romantic and potentially more realistic medium, became a substitute for the favored white marble of the earlier period.
Marble sculpture itself became more pictorial, as the compact, simple volumes of the neoclassical school gave way to more open and detailed forms, in which the play of light created patterns across space. The leading masters of this school were Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and Frederick MacMonnies. 0th-century Painting American students in Paris during the early years of the century experienced directly the work of Paul Czanne, the fauves, and Pablo Picasso, as well as other early forms of abstraction.
Beginning in 1908, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz began to show in his Photo-Secession Gallery in New York City the work of John Marin, Arthur Dove, Max Weber, and other innovative American artists. For a brief period after World War I, American artists participated in variations on the cubist movement. Joseph Stella took up Italian futurism, He used motion and industrial forms in his monumental Brooklyn Bridge (1919, Yale University Gallery).
Georgia OKeeffe turned to nearly abstract composition, based on the bold forms and flowing lines of flowers and southwestern artifacts The influence of the Stieglitz group lessened during the course of the 1920s, as more traditional forms were again reasserted. The most widespread movement of representational painting was regionalism, which rejected the internationalism of abstract art and took as its subject matter the daily life of the American farm or small town.
Thomas Hart Benton, the leading figure of the movement, developed a monumental, highly plastic style, the bulging forms and abrupt spatial transitions of which were directly inspired by baroque art. Grant Wood worked in a painstaking, highly detailed manner, combining the precision of 16th-century Flemish and German painting with the large, simple forms and naive presentation of American folk painting American Gothic (1930, Art Institute of Chicago). Both artists treated their anecdotal, rustic subjects with elements of caricature and the mock-heroic.
Regionalism flourished in almost every part of the country, and during the Great Depression of the 1930s it was the dominant style in such relief programs as the Work Projects Administration (WPA), through which the federal government put artists to work painting murals for post offices and other public buildings. The best-known American realist painter of the 20th century is Edward Hopper, an independent who stood apart from contemporary movements. His work conveys the loneliness of the city and its inhabitants.
Hoppers formal purity and depth of vision rank him, along with Homer and Eakins, among the most profound of American realists. Another well-known independent realist, Andrew Wyeth, drew upon rural subject matter to create haunting, wistful images rendered with meticulous draftsmanship and subdued coloring. Another type of realism grew out of the experience of the Great Depression and characterized the work of many artists involved in the Works Projects Administration programs. The social realistsso called because of their passionate concern with the effects of poverty and injustice in the U.
S Ben Shahn and Jacob Lawrence, the first prominent modern black artist. During World War II, the United States emerged as the worlds most powerful nation, militarily and economically. This prosperity supported the nations emerging leadership in art, as New York City, the home of the most significant development in abstract art since cubism, replaced Paris as world art capital. Abstract expressionist artists sought to reinterpret abstract painting in terms of the strong color and broad, “gestural” brushstrokes of expressionism.
A key element was the surrealist theory that through automatic, undirected processes the artist could draw upon subconscious creative forces. Jackson Pollock developed a technique that involved dripping paint from cans and brushes on outsize canvases, creating patterns through rhythmic, semiautomatic motions. During the process he would respond to the accidental quality of the drips to develop or balance what had occurred previously. Other artists, while sharing the free, energetic brushwork and large scale characteristic of the movement, achieved quite distinct styles and expressive qualities.
Willem de Kooning, never a truly abstract painter, is perhaps best known for his violently intense depictions of women. A much more serene feeling is conveyed by the meditative paintings of Robert Motherwell and by the stark canvases of Franz Kline, whose bold black brushwork suggests calligraphy. The related movement of color-field painting, characterized by broad, subtly varied expanses of pure color, reached its highest distinction in the work of Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. By 1960, two separate reactions against abstract expressionism had emerged.
Jasper Johns, with his cool, deadpan depictions of flags and other ordinary objects, and Robert Rauschenberg, incorporating mass media material into his collages, set the stage for pop art, in which Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, reproduced images drawn from advertisements, comic books, and other products of popular culture. At the same time, minimalist artists, seeking to emphasize the purely formal, surface qualities of painting, confined their work to flat, precisely rendered geometric form During the 1970s and 80s there was no dominant movement in American painting.
It was a period of pluralism, encompassing a bewildering variety of styles and methods. Nevertheless, a few distinct tendencies did emerge. Conceptual art, concerned chiefly with calling attention to ideas, inherited the analytical impulse of minimalism. Installation art, often in the form of mixed media assemblages, as in the playful, large-scale work of Jonathan Borofsky, was another important current. The emphasis on personal and political content found in the work of many women artists of the 70s led to a revival of expressive and socially conscious tendencies in art.
Figurative or realistic painting, kept alive in the postwar period by such influential artists as Milton Avery and Fairfield Porter, underwent a revival after 1970. Like Avery and Porter, younger figurative painters assimilated many of the aesthetic concerns of abstract painters in their work, as in the formally rigorous nude figure studies of Philip Pearlstein and the flatly composed, elegantly simplified landscapes and portraits of Alex Katz. The influence of pop art was apparent in photorealism, exemplified by the meticulous cityscapes of Richard Estes and the large-scale portraits of Chuck Close.
The “new image” painters who emerged in the mid-1970s, such as Jennifer Bartlett, Susan Rothenberg, and Neil Jenney, played a crucial role in the transition from abstraction to figurative work. They were the predecessors of the neoexpressionist movement of the early 80s, in which painters used lurid color, ambiguous imagery, and often crude, cartoonlike drawing to convey provocative, highly personal visions. Among the artists associated with the movement were Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Robert Longo, and Eric Fischl.
A more sober realism, mixing modernist sensibility with such traditional forms as still life and allegory, flourished in the work of William Bailey, Jack Beal, and Alfred Leslie. 20th-century sculpture certain artists such as Paul Manship and Gaston Lachaise introduced a degree of simplification and stylization. In 1916 Elie Nadelman returned from Paris with a highly personal cubist sculptural style, which he later abandoned for elegant stylized figures inspired by folk sculpture. John Storrs, Jacques Lipchitz, Chaim Gross, and William Zorach were other early abstract sculptors.
Isamu Noguchis work was first seen in the late 1920s; he studied with the Romanian-French sculptor Constantin Brancusi and derived lasting inspiration from the older masters simple volumes and smoothly flowing surfaces. Alexander Calder, influenced by the biomorphic surrealism of Joan Mir, a Spaniard, invented a new form of sculpture, the mobile, which brought to sculpture actual movement and spontaneous change.
Constructivism, the building of sculptures from different manufactured elements, was introduced to the U. S. migrs from Germany in the late 1930s, in particular by the brilliantly inventive sculptor Naum Gabo. Constructivism became the basis for the new American sculpture of the 1940s and 50s, through which Americans established world preeminence. Like abstract expressionist painting, American abstract sculpture possessed a heroic expressive energy. David Smith, the leading force in the movement, welded together sheets of industrial metal, found objects, even tractor parts, into brutally direct compositions of compelling force.
Other abstract sculptural styles range from Richard Lippolds delicate yet complex wire hangings to Mark di Suveros playful, gigantic outdoor forms. After 1970, American sculpture, like painting, entered into a period of pluralism. Pop sculpture encompassed the lifelike white plaster figures of George Segal and the polychrome plastic figures, bordering on caricature, by Duane Hanson, as well as the painted plaster representations or the so-called soft sculptures of fast food items and other mundane objects created by Claes Oldenburg.
There are the enormous metal structures of Richard Serra, devised to articulate outdoor spaces, as opposed to the more intimately scaled wooden wall environments of Louise Nevelson. Other important works of the 1970s ranged from earthworks covering vast expanses of land to the precise, symmetrical minimalist sculpture of Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt. In the 1980s more eccentric and organic forms, including figurative work, began reappearing, a trend known as postmodern or postminimalist sculpture.