American art: From the Revolution to the Civil War

The period from the birth of the republic to the Civil War did not see much increase in the demand for the fine arts. Such early painters as Washington Allston, Samuel F. B. Morse, John Vanderlyn, and John Trumbull, who sought a market in America for historical painting in the neoclassical manner of Jacques-Louis David, were quickly disillusioned. Portrait painting alone provided the substantial patronage enjoyed by such men as Mather Brown, Henry Benbridge, Edward Savage, Thomas Sully, John Neagle, Chester Harding, and the miniaturists Edward G. Malbone and John Wesley Jarvis. Their work expressed the energy and self-confidence of the builders of the new American nation.

This period also saw the gradual rise of a number of excellent genre painters—Henry Inman, William Sidney Mount, Richard C. Woodville, David G. Blythe, Eastman Johnson, and George Caleb Bingham. These were the earliest painters of the American scene. In addition, J. J. Audubon created an extraordinary, detailed series of paintings of American birds. It is significant that he had to go to England for recognition and publication of his work. John Quidor painted scenes and legendary figures from the works of James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving.

The first half of the 19th cent. witnessed development of the first school of American landscape painting. Thomas Doughty and Thomas Cole led the Hudson River school, which was continued by Asher B. Durand, John F. Kensett, and Frederick E. Church. The land and peoples west of the Mississippi were described in paintings by George Catlin, Charles M. Russell, and Seth Eastman, and in panoramic landscape views by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran (see under Moran, Edward). The work of these men showed a direct response to nature that has never ceased to be an important factor in American art. See luminism.

In addition, the characteristic American passion for objects realistically portrayed found remarkable expression in the paintings of William Harnett and John F. Peto, and earlier in the still-life works of the Peale family. The strain of primitivism, first evident in the limners, was more pronounced and popular in the early 19th cent. with works by Edward Hicks and Erastus Salisbury Field; it was continued by Grandma Moses and Horace Pippin in the 20th cent.

In sculpture portraiture provided the main source of patronage. John Frazee and Hezekiah Augur with little training produced forceful and original work in marble and wood. Horatio Greenough began the long tradition of the American sculptor trained in Italy, where he was soon followed by Thomas Crawford, Hiram Powers, and Harriet Hosmer. The American sculptors in Italy were greatly influenced by the Danish neoclassicist A. B. Thorvaldsen. Works of great originality were produced by Clark Mills, Thomas Ball, and particularly by William Rimmer, whose untutored sculpture was enormously powerful.

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

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