American art: After the Civil War

In painting the post–Civil War period, which was one of unprecedented patronage for the arts from government and private sources, produced works of enduring worth and striking individuality. Among the many outstanding artists of this period, James McNeill Whistler, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer created works that rank among the finest achievements in American art. While they were contemporaries, these four are strikingly dissimilar. Whistler, an expatriate, cultivated a delicate art of suggestion in his oils and etchings, approaching the effects of French impressionism. Ryder produced a visionary art of profound emotional impact. Eakins painted sympathetic portraits of extraordinary psychological insight and uncompromising honesty. Homer's watercolors are among the strongest interpretations of pure landscape and seascape ever painted.

This period also saw the further development of the romantic landscape in the works of George Inness, Alexander H. Wyant, Homer D. Martin, and Ralph Blakelock. In Inness, and perhaps even more in William Morris Hunt, the influence of the Barbizon school was brought to America. Although French influence had begun to supplant German, the work of the portrait painters William M. Chase and Frank Duveneck reflected contemporary currents in Munich, as the earlier genre painters had reflected the influence of artists in Düsseldorf. John La Farge's religious murals and stained glass set a new standard for these arts.

John Singer Sargent, working chiefly in England, excelled in society portraiture, and Elihu Vedder and Edwin Abbey in illustration. At the close of the 19th cent. and the beginning of the 20th, John Twachtman, Childe Hassam, Ernest Lawson, and Mary Cassatt as well as such lesser-known American artists as Willard Metcalf (1858–1925) worked under the direct influence of French impressionism. Meanwhile, under the same influence, Maurice Prendergast created original, boldly colorful images of passing urban scenes. In a wholly different vein, realistic if somewhat romanticized scenes of life in the American West were painted by several artist-illustrators, the most prominent of whom were Frederick Remington and C. M. Russell.

In sculpture after the Civil War there was an increased demand for commemorative work. Notable sculptors in the monumental tradition include John Quincy Adams Ward and Daniel Chester French. The workshop of John Rogers produced small figures and genre groups that became popular. Later, Remington's small bronzes extended the subject matter of native realism westward to include the cowboy. Neoclassical tendencies dominated in the work of Olin Warner and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, both of whom studied in Paris.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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