LS491, HO 1: American Art to 1850.
I. Spanish Colonial Art
The Banner of Cortes: a crude Spanish painting of the Virgin Mary brought to Mexico
by Hernando Cortes, and used as a banner for his army. It shows the kind of images that
Spanish colonial priest gave to native craftsmen to serve as models for the new art
required by conversion to Catholocism.
San Jose, Old Laguna Pueblo, NM: a Franciscan mission church that imitates Mexican
missions, it was built of adobe between 1699 and 1706. The interior has a painted and
craved retablo or altarpiece that imitates Mexican colonial style of the late 18th century,
showing in an ornate design St. Joseph holding the Christ beneath the Trinity and flanked
by Saints. The nave of the church, though, has painted abstracted decoration that clearly
was done by local native (Pueblo Indian) artists.
San Xavier de Bac, Arizona: a purely colonial Baroque mission church of the “ultra-
baroque” style of the second half of the 18th century (in Mexico) built near Tucson
between 1783-1797. Its facade has a curvilinear entryway between Baroque towers. The
middle portion is decorated with relief sculpture of Saints, stylized vegeatation and
estipites (complexly carved columns). The retablo of the sanctuary is equally ornate-the
imagery is hard to read amidst all the ornamental excess, but the decorative vigor is
impressive (the goal in all this is to show the complexity of God).
California Missions: the California missions were founded by the Franciscans (led by
Father Junipero Serra) after 1869, and designed to convert and control the local native
population. They were 21 in number, each located one day‟s journey apart on El Camino
Reale (Highway 101), extending from San Diego to Sonoma north of San Francisco.
Each consisted of a mission church and monastery, and a presidio (or barracks, for a
small garrison). The natives were trained in crafts (including construction) and as
agricultural by the Franciscans; after the Mexican Revolution of 1821, the missions were
secularized, and the native became essentially slaves on haciendas.
Church of the Mission Santa Barbara, California: built 1815-1820, the most elaborate
of the California Mission churches. Its façade is Neoclassical, with a central temple
façade between bell towers. The sanctuary „s decoration is Baroque and ornate, with a
gilded carved and painted retablo depicting St. Barbara beneath the crucified Crist.
Although the retablo looks expensive, the marble detailing is painted and fake!
II. French Colonial Art
Frere Luc, “France Bringing Faith to the Indians of New France:” a crude Baroque
altarpiece for a chapel (it is 7 X 7‟) probably painted by a Jesuit brother named Luke
around 1675 and sent to Quebec. Sited on the St. Lawrence River (Luke had probably
been a monk at Quebec around 1670), it depicts a personification of France, who is
LS491, HO 1: American Art to 1850, page 2.
clothed in a robe with the fleur-de-lis (symbol of the French monarchy), showing a
painting of Christ in Heaven to a Native American, who kneels like a European courtier,
and accepts Christ and French direction (he wears a robe decorated with the fleur-de-lis
also). Behind him are wigwams. Behind France is a European ship. She points upward
with her left hand to Heaven, where God hands Christ a globe (symbolizing dominion
over the earth). The Dove of the Holy Spirit seems to perch on Christ‟s left hand. A
monument to French colonialism.
Bark Box:nuns and their students in New France by the later 18th century adapted some
native crafts into products used by whites, notably sewn birch-bark boxes with
embroidered figural designs on them. These were sold in Europe as aboriginal curiosities
to fiancé the nunneries, although they don‟t reproduce native object, but merely a native
Robe with Louis XIV motifs: the Plains Indians made elaborately decorated robes that
were used to depict rank and status and in ceremonies. An interesting buffalo robe of the
late 18th century is decorated with abstract vegetal motifs that clearly come from the
French repertoire; hence Louis XIV. This shows the adaptation by native artists of white
motifs, a process that will continue.
II. British Colonial Art
Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary: a linear, flat image of the wife and daughter of a
prominent Boston merchant painted 1671-74 by a “limner,” or self-trained folk artist.
While the features are generic, it does convey well a picture of the family‟s prosperity
through careful delineation of Elizabeth‟s clothes, jewelry, and the chair she sits on..
Parson Capen House: built in 1683 near Boston, this well-preserved house shows the
clapboard construction and simple form favored by the New England well-to-do of the
Thomas Smith: a successful New England merchant (apparently in the slave trade),
Smith painted a somewhat crude self-portrait c. 1680 that shows a clear debt to
contemporary European Baroque portraits. It shows him caressing a skull (a symbol of
mortality) that rest on a poem confessing that earthly deeds are empty, and that death and
judgement awaits him. Somewhat belying that, a window behind the skull shows a battle
that Smith took part in (and which he must regard as a significant deed). As a colonial
New Englander, he is soberly (but richly) dressed to further show his success in life.
Henrietta Deering: wife of a pastor who moved from Ireland to South Carolina in 1708.
She practiced the fashionable European style of pastel –portraiture, and made some
middling images of the Charleston elite (Colonel and Mrs. Samuel Prioleau, 1715).
LS491, HO 1: American Art to 1850, page 3
Benjamin West: expatriate artist who was born in Pennsylavania, but who lived and
worked in England after 1759. He made his reputation in 1770 with “The Death of
General Wolfe,” a History Painting that celebrated the conquest of Canada in the French
and Indian War by equating its dying hero visually with Christ taken off the cross! The
painting contained other symbolism, such as the Indian looking on and learning from the
example of white heroism. In 1772, at the behest of the governor of Pennsylavania, a
member of the Penn family, West painted the less dramatic “Penn‟s Treaty with the
Indians,” which celebrated the first official agreement (soon broken by the whites)
between colonists and natives. West‟s style is swirling, coloristic and dramatic, an
example of late Baroque European style. In 1792 he became President of the Royal
British Academy of Art. He was an anachronism at the time of his death (1820). West‟s
greatest importance for American Art is his education of and promotion of young artists
from the colonies (and later the states) who came to England for training.
John Singleton Copley: the best colonial artist, Copley made his reputation between
1760 and 1774 by painting painstakingly realistic portraits of the colonies‟ elite in his
native Boston (Governor and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin, 1773). These are marvels of realistic
detailing of features, fabric and belongings. In 1774 Copley, who had married the
daughter of an agent of the British East India Company, went to Europe to study and
escape the turmoil of the coming Revolution. He was joined in England by his family in
1776, and had a successful career painting in England, most notably creating an
idiosyncratic “History” painting (1778) celebrating Brooke Watson‟s escape from a shark
that chewed one of his legs off in Havana harbor , an event the millionaire Watson
apparently saw as a turning point that led to his successful mercantile career. The
painting owes much to renditions of Jonah and the Whale, and includes a handsome black
gentleman throwing Watson a rope-it is unlikely, though that this is a comment on
III. The Young Republic and Its Art, 1775-1825.
John Trumbull: scion of a wealthy Connecticut family, Trumbull studied with Benjamin
West, and closely imitates his style. Following the Revolution (in which he served in the
Colonial army) Trumbull began to make a series of history paintings to celebrate the
Revolution. These were received indifferently in the states, although paintings like “”The
Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker‟s Hill” (1786) are reasonably good
theatre. The citizenry of the early Republic simply didn‟t appreciate fine art in the
European tradition. In 1817 Trumbull was commissioned to create four large canvases to
decorate the Capitol‟s Rotonda. Trumbull‟s works are stiff and not wholly successful, but
show the beginnings of an art that expresses official American values through historical
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Gilbert Stuart: sodden artist from Rhode Island who studied with Benjamin West, and
established a reputation as a gifted portrait artist in England by 1793, when he fled back
to the states due to debts. By 1796 Stuart had made several official images of George
Washington, notably the Lansdowne Portrait of 1796, which presents Washington in pose
and setting closely borrowed from a portrait of a French Bishop! Nevertheless, Stuart was
able to present Washington with a nobility befitting the “Father of Our Country,” and he
spent the rest of his life painting portraits of the first president (over 100 survive). His
portraits are quite detailed and sophisticated in the depiction of the facial features, but
usually very cursory in the background and details.
The Federal Style and Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson, an amateur architect, promoted a
Neoclassical style for the official governmental architecture of the young Republic in
order to connect the US visually with its model, the ancient Roman Republic. This highly
ordered (the plans are usually symmetrical) architectural style looked back to Classical
Antiquity for ornamental details like columns, capitals, and projecting temple facades,
but actually is closer in its building types to the European Renaisance of the 16th century.
This debt can be seen in Jefferson‟s manor “Monticello” near Charlottesville, which he
rebuilt between 1796 and 1809 in its final form. The house uses the Renaissance country
houses of Andrea Palladio (active c. 1550-1580) as models for its layout. Its projecting
temple façade entryway using the Greek Doric order shows that J. based his life on
Classical values. Jefferson‟s one public design is Virginia‟s state Capitol (1783-89),
which he designed as a virtual copy of the Roman temple known as the Maison Carree (c.
2 BC) in southern France. Through this emulation, he wanted to show that Virginia‟s new
state government would be founded on the model of the ancient Roman Republic.
Jean-Antoine Houdon, “George Washington:” Houdon, the leading sculptor in France
in the 1780s, was brought to Virginia by Jefferson to make an image of Washington for
Virgina‟s state capitol. This was palace in the Capitol on the spot where a cult statue
would be place in a temple! Despite this siting, the statue shows Washington lifesized
(i.e. surely human), but as a Republican hero, with several references to the legendary
Roman general Cincinnatus. Washington wears a military uniform, but has hung up his
sword on a column made up of thirteen fasces (rods that symbolized the authority of the
Roman consul, or head magistrate under the Republic), and leans on a cane. He thus is
seen as the President, a civilian post. Behind him is a plow, to which he will return like
Cincinnatus when his service is over, and which reminds the viewer that the southern
(and ancient Roman) aristocracy were farm owners.
The US Capitol: the primary Neoclassical monument of the young Republic, begun in
1794 by William Thornton, but taken over and largely completed by Benjamin Latrobe
by 1808. This building was burned in the War of 1812 (in 1814), but rebuilt by Latrobe
and Charles Bullfinch by 1846. The most interesting design features are the “American”
columns with corn and tobacco capitals devised by Latrobe. As part of this design,
LS491, HO 1: American Art to 1850, page 5
John Trumbull was commissioned to create four large paintings (each 12 X 8‟) for the
interior of events in the Revolutionary period (the most famous of these is the Declaration
of Independence, 1818). In the mid 1820s, Italian sculptors were brought
over to create reliefs above the doors leading out of the large room under the dome.
These present events in the colonial period that stress the superiority of the European and
their righteous subjugation of the Native Americans, including a notable image of Daniel
Boone eliminating some unruly (demonic) Redskins by Enrico Causici (1827). From
1851-1865 the capitol was expanded with a new dome (based on St. Paul‟s Cathedral,
London) and projecting side wings by Thomas Walter. At that time also, patriotic
pedimental sculpture (Thomas Crawford, The Progress of Civilization, Senate wing) and
interior murals (Emmanuel Leutze, “Westward Ho!”, 1863) were added, In appearance,
the Capitol imitates the qualities of European Neoclassical buildings, presenting a
columned entry porch like a Greco-Roman temple (symbolizing the classical past as the
portal to the American Republic‟s government), a central dome, and a symmetrical plan
with projecting wings to either side. Its general appearance is closer to European palaces
of the 16th-18th century than any ancient building.
John Vanderlyn: American-born history painter who studied in England and later
worked in France. His “Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos” (1811), a mythological
nude, was much admired in Paris, but its exhibition in New York in 1814 was
unsuccessful, because it was a purely European type of painting. His “The Death of Jane
McCrea” (1804) was better received. It illustrating an incident reputed to have occurred
in the Revolution (a runaway teenager seeking her boyfriend was killed and scalped by
Native Americans) a recounted in a contemporary poem, depicts demonic redskins based
on muscular Hellenistic Greek athletes butchering the pathetic and buxom Jane, who
pleads in vain for mercy.
Charles Willson Peale: artist, naturalist and inventor, originally from Maryland, but
lived mainly in Philadelphia. He studied with West in England before joining the
Colonial Army, and later created the first portrait of George Washington (1784). Mainly
a portrait artist, in 1794 at age 53 he retired from his painting business on to his sons
Raphaelle and Titian, so that he could devote his energies to his inventions, and
especially to his museum. Peale practiced taxidermy, and even excavated a mammoth in
order to fill his museum, which in 1822 became the Philadelphia Museum. He painted a
charming portrait of himself lifting a curtain to show us the museum in that year.
Charles Bird King: from Rhode Island, studied with West in London, but best known
for painting 143 portraits of Native Americans for the State Department in Washington
DC to commemorate treaties between 1821 and 1842. These present competent and
sympathetic, if somewhat generic, images that document the vanishing native culture
(“Young Omawhaw and Other Pawnees,” 1822).
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Samuel F.B. Morse: From a wealthy Connecticutt family, best known for inventing the
telegraph, but originally a painter. Morse studied art in England from 1811-1815, and
tried to adapt European History Painting to celebrate the young American society (his
Millenialist religious beliefs barely show up in his art). His large painting “The House of
Representatives” 1823 (7 X 11‟) was ill-received when taken on tour, perhaps because it
is uninteresting. Morse founded the National Academy of Design in NYC in 1826 and
nurtured it until 1845, by which time it was the main vehicle of Fine Art in the US. His
later History painting, “The Gallery of the Louvre” (1833), attempted to show Americans
how to learn to be an artist (by copying the “Masters”)-it was ignored also. After 1845
Morse devoted himself to inventing; he died in 1872.
Rufus Porter: painter and interior decorator (1792-1884) who wrote an influential how-
to book on decorating, including instructions on how to mix paint and lay out designs. In
particular, Porter is known for his wall-paintings to decorate the formal rooms of homes,
such as the Dining Room of the Holsaert House in Hancock, NH (1825-30).
Itinerant portraiture: the first half of the 19th century saw a fair number of itinerant
artists, mainly self-trained (folk artists), who traveled to small towns and created
decoration, mainly portraits for homes. Their style usually recalled the folk portraits of
the colonial period, with two-dimensional figures with strong linear outlines, and more
emphasis on the depiction of status (like fine clothes and furniture) than individual
features. Space in these portraits is often flattened or virtually non-existent. Typical
examples of this style can be seen in the work of Ammi Young (Mrs. Mayer and
Daughter, 1830-40) and Erastus Salisbury Field (Joseph Moore Family, 1839).
Joshua Johnston: earliest black artist in the US, apparently largely self-trained (he may
have worked with one of the Peales for a while), Johnston lived in Baltimore around 1800
and created flattened, linear images with little three-dimensionality. Most of his portraits
are of white families (James McCormick Family, c. 1805), but a couple of portraits
survive of African-American gentlemen.
Daguerreotype: the earliest kind of photography, patented by Jacques-Louis Daguerre in
France in 1837. This created a positive image (could not be reproduced) on a copper
plate; it also took a long time to expose the image. Although awkward and clumsy, the
daguerreotype was brought to the US by Morse in 1839, and became swiftly popular,
eliminating itinerant portraiture.The daguerreotype of Sameul Morse by Matthew Brady
in 1845, the first well-known US photographer, is rather better than most, but shows the
stagy poses favored by portraits in this era.
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IV. Nature and Manifest Destiny, 1825-1850.
Thomas Cole: the first important American landscape painter, and founder of the
Hudson River School, lived 1801-1848. Originally from England, Cole immigrated at 18
and trained in an engraving shop. He was largely self-taught as an artist, but, after
moving to New York in 1824, he established his reputation as a gifted landscape painter
of the familiar touristic sights of upstate New York (Kaaterskill Falls, 1826), which he
showed in primordial simplicity, before the arrival of whites. In 1828 he went to Europe
to study in England (helped by John Trumbull), and after returning in 1830 established
himself as a painter of the familiar as Sublime or awesome (Niagara Falls, 1830)-the
landscape is seen as indicative of God‟s presence in the world. Essentially a conservative,
Cole‟s most complete painting cycle was done in 1833-35 for a wealthy businessman in
NYC, and depicts “The Course of Empire.” It shows a Classical civilization‟s rise and
inevitable (to Cole) destruction, and is clearly supposed to be analogous to Jacksonian
democracy (especially the triumphal parade in The Consummation of Empire). Despite
his taste for allegorical and moralizing series of paintings, Cole‟s reputation is based on
his ideal, if savage, landscapes.
Asher Durand: generally considered the second best landscape paintere in America
during Cole‟s lifetime, Durand was a successful engraver before turning to landscapes
around 1830. His best known painting is “Kindred Spirits.” Which shows Cole and the
poet William Cullen Bryant gazing a vista in the mountains-it was painted in 1849, the
year after Cole‟s early death. Durand also painted an allegory of Manifest Destiny called
“Progress” in 1853, which shows Indians gazing down on a town.
Robert Duncanson: African-American landscape painter and admirer of Cole who lived
in Cinncinati. His “Blue Hole, Little Miami River” (1851) is one of the finest nineteenth
century American landscapes because it looks so unstudied and real. Duncanson, like
Cole, painted artificial religious scenes, but his best work are largely realistic landscapes.
His “View of Cincinnati” (1858) is bland and unmoving until you see the Black
farmworkers in the foreground, then notice the Ohio River is between you and the city ,
and thus realize that you are in the slave state of Kentucky, and crossing the river is the
way to freedom.
Frederic Edwin Church: Cole‟s pupil and successor as the famous American painter.
From a wealthy family, Church created large dramatic canvases of sublime nature, often
traveling to exotic places like Ecuador to capture his subject, which is a Transcendentalist
Nature full of God‟s majesty. „The Heart of the Andes” 1859 is his masterpiece. In 1860,
“Twilight in the Wilderness” 1860 shows his worries over the direction of his country.
After 1870, Church painted little, and his fame ebbed.
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George Inness: Pennsylvania landscape painter, usually of rather quiet rural scenes that
show the growth of white civilization. “The Lackawanna Valley” c. 1855 shows fields
filled with tree stumps, and beyond a train proceeding from a round house. To the sides
of the train yard are a church and a factory. The symbolism is clear.
Luminism: a trend in American landscape painting (particularly marine painting) at the
middle of the 19th century. The major luminists (FitzHugh Lane, Martin Heade, John
Kensett) paint mainly seascapes, and their interest is in a kind of subdued and abstracted
subject matter, impersonal surface (devoid of brushstrokes), and an interest in an odd
overall light without any highlights. Little happens in Luminist paintings, and the
resulting images often look frozen in time, and their mood is pensive or even melancholy.
See Kensett “Beacon Rock, Newport Harbor” 1857, Lane “the Western Shore with
Norman‟s Woe” 1862.
Albert Bierstadt: German-born and trained landscape painter of western vistas. Bierstadt
grew up in New England, but studied in Dusseldorf. In 1859 he went west with General
Lander‟s mapping expedition, and returned with sketches that he turned into “The Rocky
Mountains, Lander‟s Peak” (1863), which made him famous. This is a huge and
seemingly photographic view of the Rockies near Jackson Hole-Bierstadt added a
Shoshone encampment in the foreground to give scale and atmosphere. The wealthy of
NYC loved these paintings, „cause they made them feel good to be Americans.
Emmanuel Leutze: German-American artist who had successful careers in both
countries. Leutze grew up in Philadelphia, but went back to Dusseldorf for training, and
stayed on. His most famous painting today, “Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851),
was painted in Germany and sent to the US. It is a history painting in the tradition of
Trumbull, but cornier, and thus more successful. As a result of its success, Leutze moved
to the US in 1857, and was commissioned to do a large wall painting (mural) for the US
Capitol in 1859. This painting celebrates US expansionism, or “Manifest Destiny,” and is
entitled “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” In it, pioneers have just
crossed the Rockies and are looking out on a verdant vista (California, here we come!).
Ion the preparatory study of 1861, Leutze presents a number of Old Testament parallels
in the frame to show that it is God‟s will that leads White Ameirca forward.
George Catlin: from Pennsylvania, trained as lawyer and largely self-taught, catlin
decided in 1830 to document the Plains Indians, and over the next few year made five
trips up the Missouri to paint. He later wrote about his journeys, and showed his
collection throughout the US and in Europe. Catlin preserves much information about a
lost way of life (The Last race, Part of the Mandan Okipa Ceremony, 1832), but has been
criticized (justly) for changing features of native dress and omitting items he found
embarrassing. It is suspected that he also idealized his portraits (Four Bears, Mandan
Chief, 1832-34), since he was a proponent of the Noble Savage (whose demise, however,
he considered inevitable).
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Karl Bodmer: Swiss painter who accompanied a German prince west in 1833. His
images of Native Americans are considered more trustworthy in their details than Catlin‟s
(Teton Sioux Woman, 1833-34).
William Sidney Mount: Genre painter from Long Island who painted early images of
rural life. “Bargaining for a Horse” 1835 shows a rural gentleman bilking a city slicker
who appears to have bought a run-down farm.
George Caleb Bingham: grew up in Missouri, and created notable images of frontier
life, of which “Fur Traders descending the Missouri” (1845) is justly famous. It shows a
trapper and his half breed son canoeing to market with a bale of furs. Like most
frontiersmen, Bingham found the natives hostile, hence “the Concealed Enemy” 1845,
which shows an Indian waiting to ambush passing whites.
Raphaelle Peale: still-life specialist, the drunken son of Charles Willson Peale, died at
51 in 1826. He loved illusionistic games-“Fruit Piece with Peaches Covered by a
Hankerchief” c. 1819 he presents the fruit under gauzy cloth, with a very real looking
wasp crawling on a peach. His most famous trompe l’oeil” painting is usually called
„After the Bath” c. 1822, although its real title is “Venus Rising from the Sea-A
Deception.” This shows a girl (clearly a Hottie) who has just emerged from her bath,
unfortunately her luscious female charms are hidden behind a very three-dimensional
towel hung up in front of her. All we see is her foot and hair being rung out. This is a
joke about the academic penchant (see Vanderlyn‟s Ariadne) of presenting a naked
beauty posed as High Art.
Lily Martin Spencer: portrait artist who also painted genre images during her long
career (1822-1902), Spencer supported her large family 9she had a house-husband).
“Kiss Me and You‟ll Kiss the „Lasses” (1856) shows a flirtatious girl (likely a young
wife) who is decanting (and presumably tasting) molasses. In the tradition of Dutch and
French genre paintings of domestic life, celebrating the joys of domesticity. Spencer also
painted nice still lifes.
John James Audobon: of French descent (but born in Haiti), Audobon moved to the US
in 1803. In the teens, the largely self-taught artist and ornithologist began to catalogue
birds, which he illustrated in life-size watercolors. Between 1828 and 1838 The Birds of
America was published in 87 large folio volume sets., featuring hand colored prints of
the watercolors. To create realistic images, Audobon slaughtered the birds, and posed
them in natural settings (rather like a portrait artist worked).