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American Art



  • Many colonial painters were itinerant artists who wandered countryside in search of families who wanted their portraits painted.

  • Similar in style to European counterparts.

  • Handicrafts

  • Embroidery samplers

  • Ivory carvings

  • Silver pieces see Paul Revere)

  • Quilts

  • Benjamin Wade and John Copley

  • Went to England where they received training and financial support to establish themselves as prominent artists

  • Gilbert Stuart

  • Portrait of George Washington (1796)

  • John Singleton Copley

  • "Watson and the Shark" (1778)


  • East Coast

  • 1740s and 50s, Georgian style of London was imitated.

  • Brick and stucco homes with symmetrical placements of windows and dormers with a spacious center hall flanked by two fireplaces.

  • Frontier

  • One-room log cabins


  • Widely read religious tracts by Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards

  • Phillis Wheatley (former slave) wrote poetry

  • Benjamin Franklin

  • Most popular and successful American writer of the 18th century

  • Wrote advice and aphorisms in Poor Richard's Almanack (revised annually from 1732-1757)

  • Newspapers

  • In 1725 there were only 5 newspapers

  • By 1776, there were more than 40.

  • issued weekly, each newspaper had a single sheet folded once to make four pages

  • First cartoon in Philadelphia Gazette placed there by Ben Franklin

  • Peter Zenger Case

  • risk for jail for libel if the article offenddded poltiical authorities

  • 1735 John Peter Zenger, a New York editor and publishers, was brought to trial on charge o libelously criticizing New York's royal governor.

  • Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, argued that his client had printed the truth about the governor.

  • The jury voted acquit Zenger encouraging newspapers to take greater risks in criticizing a colony's government.





  • Neoclassical style (based on Roman architecture) modeled after buildings in Paris

  • See Jefferson's house called Monticello (1768-1809)

  • Georgian Style

  • Two stories with sense of symmetry

  • Philadelphia's independence Hall finished in 1750s

  • Washington DC established as the capital in 1790


  • Revolution writers

  • John Adams, James Otis, John Dickinson, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson

  • Thomas Paine

  • Common Sense

  • Thomas Jefferson

  • Declaration of Independence based on John Locke's Enlightenment ideas about government




  • With Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and explorations of Lewis and Clark more interest focused on frontier


  • Hudson River school

  • Painters wanted to show off the beauty of the newly-acquired lands.

  • Albert Bierstadt

  • Drew landscapes that displayed grandeur of the land.

  • John James Audubon

  • Birds of America illustrations showed birds in frontier.

  • Frederick Remington

  • Bronze sculptures immortalized western cowboy


  • Wooden structures replaced by brick buildings.




Like French Impressionists (Monet, Manet) focused on light and "impression"


  • The Ten

  • Created more experimental paintings

  • Focused less on "captured light" than French artists.

  • Brighter, bolder colors.




  • Genre painting 1830s

  • Portraying the everyday life of ordinary people: riding on riverboats, voting etc.

  • George Caleb Bingham

  • Depicted common people in various settings carrying out domestic chores.

  • William S. Mount

  • Popular for lively rural compositions.

  • Hudson River School

  • Thomas Cole and Frederick Church

  • Emphasized heroic beauty of American landscapes, especially in dramatic scenes along the Hudson River.



  • Transcendentalists

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Self-Reliance

  • Henry David Thoreau

  • Walden (1854)

  • About time spent in the wilderness

  • Pioneer ecologist and conservationist

  • On Civil Disobedience

  • Encouraging peaceful disobedience as a form of protest

  • Thoreau stopped paying taxes to protest Mexican-American War (1846-48)

  • His methods were mimicked by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Nationalism

  • Post War of 1812 = nationalism

  • Fiction in American settings

  • Washington Irving

  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

  • Rip Van Winkle

  • Kidd the Pirate

  • James Fenimore Cooper

  • Leathersocking Tales

  • Series of novels written from 1824-1841

  • glorified frontiersman as nature's nobleman

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Scarlet Letter (1850)

  • Questioned intolerance and conformity.

  • About Puritan colonies.

  • Herman Melville

  • Moby Dick (1855)

  • Reflected theological and cultural conflicts of the era through the story of Captain Ahab's pursuit of an elusive white whale.




  • Realism 1880s

  • Wanted to show life as it was

  • Literary Naturalism

  • Suggesting that human beings were not so much rational shapers of their own destinies but were blind victims of forces beyond their control -- including their own subconscious impulses.

  • Modernism

  • Rejected traditional canons of literary taste

  • Questioned the whole idea of progress and order

  • Modernist focused on the subconscious and primitive mind.

  • Above all, they sought to overturn convention and tradition

  • Ezra Pound: "Make it new!"


  • Showed life as it was with crowded streets and people going about their day.

  • Photography

  • Some photographers argued that "true" representations made painting obsolete.

  • Caused artists to invent their own forms of realism.

  • New York Realists or Ash Can School or "The Eight" (although only 5 of the 8 were Ashcan)

  • Called "Ash Can School" by critics because they chose subjects that were not conventionally beautiful.

  • In the spirit of political rebellion of the period.

  • Rebelled against American impressionism and academic realism.

  • Generally darker in tone than earlier styles, roughly painted

  • Many captured harsher moments of modern life

  • Portraying street kids, prostitutes, alcoholics, subways, crowded tenements, washing hung out to dry, bloodied boxers etc.

  • focus on poverty and the gritty realities of urban life.

  • Not organized

  • Robert Henri

  • fasicinated with life in the great cities.

  • "the backs of tenement houses are living documents"

  • John Sloan

  • George Bellows

  • Cliff Dwellers



  • Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

  • Wrote lighthearted books

  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

  • Condemned slavery and racism

  • Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)

  • Ends with a bloody, technology driven slaughter of Arthur's knights

  • Twain became one of the bitterest critics of America's ideas of progress.

  • Clemens (Twain) was devastated by death of wife and two daughters as well as failed investments and bankruptcy.

  • outspoken critic of imperialism and foreign missions.

  • Twain eventually denounced Christianity itself as a hypocritical delusion.

  • Like Andrew Carnegie, he "got rid of technology"

  • William Dean Howell

  • Called for writers "to picture the daily life in the most exact terms possible"

  • Theodore Dreiser

  • Dismissed unrealistic novels that always had "a happy ending"

  • Wrote Main-Traveled Roads (1891) based on the struggles of his Midwestern farm family

  • Hamlin Garland

  • Wrote about hardships of rural life.

  • Stephen Crane

  • Wrote Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893)

  • Privately printed because no publisher would touch it

  • Described the seduction, abandonment and death of a slum girl.

  • Tried to capture "a world of fists"

  • Jack London

  • Spent teen years as a factory worker, sailor and tramp

  • Wrote stories like "The Law of Life (1901) dramatizing what he saw as the harsh reality of an uncaring universe.

  • said American society was "a jungle wherein wild beasts eat and are eaten"




  • Armory Show (1913)

  • Realists participated in the most controversial events in American art history

  • Housed in an enormous National Guard building in New York

  • Introduced Americans to modern art.

  • Cubism, abstract geometric forms

  • Works by Henri, Sloan and Bellows

  • As well as Pablo Picasso.

  • Edward Hopper

  • Emerged from Armory show

  • Student of Robert Henri (one of founders of Ash Can School)

  • Showed life as it was, but reflected in the isolation people felt after WWI

  • Nighthawks painting 1942

  • Regionalism

  • Rejected the crowded streets

  • In favor of scenes of farming and the rural Midwest

  • Grant Wood

  • American Gothic

  • Stern-faced farmers modeled after his sister and detist

  • Dada

  • Nonsense art

  • Response to WWI

  • Shapes defied logical forms of painting

  • Cubism


  • Art Deco (1920s)

  • Example: Chrysler Building in New York

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