A regional study of American genre painting from 1830-1880
Cohen, George Michael
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The dissertation covers the period when genre painting reached its height in Nineteenth Century America. In the true sense of its artistic meaning, the genre painter records everyday scenes from life in a non-historical, impersonal manner. This was the time characterized by the rise of the common man; the moment when Jeffersonian principles were furthered by the President of the people, Andrew Jackson. Now many American artists became less interested in formal portraiture and historical anecdote and more concerned in observing and recording, first hand, the everyday nuances of life around them. The greatest emphasis in the dissertation centers around various rural areas in America. William Sidney Mount paints bucolic Long Island farmers and negroes, while George Caleb Bingham depicts in paint and pen the rugged Missouri flatboatmen and frontier politicians. Homespun flavor of New England is found in George Henry Durrie's detailed snow scenes, with small figures lost within nature's expanse. Winslow Homer portrays farm life in Upper New York State, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Maple sugar camps in Fryeburg, Maine and cranberry harvests in Nantucket comprise Eastmen Johnson's repertoire. Lastly, the romantic and mysterious genre of John Quidor reveals an artistic parallel to the writings of Washington Irving and his Knickerbocker Catskill gentry. The urban scene seemed to warrant to a lesser degree the nostalgic point of view of rural life. "City" painters at this time were fewer in number since city patrons preferred portraiture and historical painting to the recording of urban scenery. Nevertheless, a few genre recorders did emerge and viewed man as a contrived "vehicle" caught in the routine ways of the city. Richard Caton Woodville portrayed Baltimore bourgeois life with its oyster eaters and sailor weddings. In Pittsburgh, David Gilmor Blythe painted in dark tones scenes of horse markets, cobblers' shops and satirized the law courts and clergy. The final chapter of the dissertation discusses a select group of artist-explorers who observed the American Indian in his own environment. These brave men who sometimes ventured alone or accompanied government troops or fur trading companies were social commentators on the plight of America's persecuted aboriginals. George Catlin, the founder of the first Wild West Show, explored and sketched unknown tribes in the Upper Missouri-Mississippi and Southwest regions of our country. Hidden Indian encampments, forced migrations and theatric fur trade rendezvous were depicted by Alfred Jacob Miller; the soldier-painter Seth Eastman recorded candidly the life and habits of Indians in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The dissertation attempts to unite these eleven genre painters into a single volume, whereby the reader may have a clearer view of America's Golden Age of Genre Painting between 1830 and 1880 and compare their iconographical and stylistic similarities and differences. TO substantiate the above material, the dissertation includes aspects of history, politics, sociology and European artistic styles that were influential in forming the temperament, ideals and philosophies of these genre recorders. In conclusion, the author has tried to show how the American genre painter illuminated with reason, humor and frank realism the rugged American spirit upon which our country rests. He portrayed in the most photographic, yet individualistic and selective manner, the true roots of our nation - roots that dig deep into the rich and fertile soil that uncovers the strength, vigor and good-humor that constitute the American way. In a separate volume, the photostat illustrations supplement the text.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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