American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience With a New Preface

American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience With a New Preface

Barbara Novak

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0195309499

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In this distinguished work, which Hilton Kramer in The New York Times Book Review called "surely the best book ever written on the subject," Barbara Novak illuminates what is essentially American about American art. She highlights not only those aspects that appear indigenously in our art works, but also those features that consistently reappear over time. Novak examines the paintings of Washington Allston, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Fitz H. Lane, William Sidney Mount, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, and Albert Pinkham Ryder. She draws provocative and original conclusions about the role in American art of spiritualism and mathematics, conceptualism and the object, and Transcendentalism and the fact. She analyzes not only the paintings but nineteenth-century aesthetics as well, achieving a unique synthesis of art and literature.
Now available with a new preface and an updated bibliography, this lavishly illustrated volume--featuring more than one hundred black-and-white illustrations and sixteen full-color plates--remains one of the seminal works in American art history.



















lack of fidelity to the “truth” of nature’s details.40 Yet he strongly maintained that he always had “nature for every object,” and even criticized Turner’s later works for a “visionary, unsubstantial look about them that, for some subjects, is admirably appropriate; but in pictures representing scenes in this world, rocks should not look like sugar candy, nor the ground like jelly. . . . The standard by which I form my judgement is— beautiful nature; and if I am astray it is on a path which I

can say that luminism is the poetic response to the felt sensation. There is much room here for speculation. The indigenous development of Impressionism in America, which can be traced through the landscapes of such luminists as Heade and Lane into the works of Winslow Homer, unfolds under conditions not too dissimilar from those in Europe. The ideal, whether in neoclassic or romantic guise, gives way gradually to the real. In America, if anything, the taste for the real was stimulated by a

continuous right up to the bland surfaces of much art in the 1960s. In the mid-nineteenth century, the luminist vision lent itself to works that were of a piece with the most profound philosophic and literary developments of the time. For the luminist looked at nature, as Emerson did, “with a supernatural eye,” and with a clarity that was for Thoreau “as if I touched the wires of a battery.” In a luminist landscape, nature is presented on a smooth, mirror-like surface that shows barely a trace of

in actual practice strongly held by a formal ideal that, like Piero’s, stamped his best works with a “fixed and determined idea.” However, this is insufficient reason to discard his statement as a whole, for he tries further to qualify his comments, and perhaps we may allow him his qualifications: All the thought which in the course of my studies, I have been able to give to the subject, has led me to conclude that the ideal in Art is but the impressions made upon the mind of the artist by the

an influence to hosts of painters.”7 Photography has long been recognized for its role in liberating the painter from the necessity for realistic representation to concentrate on the autonomy of the picture. But little attention has been given to the early use of the daguerreotype and subsequently of the photograph as a tool to make the studies of “reality” that the artist could then use in his studio to freeze and capture effects of light and dark and, mainly, to fortify conceptual knowledge.

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