MONOCHROMATIC DRAWING: A FORGOTTEN BRANCH OF AMERICAN ART

The greatest enemy of naïve American art is the spring cleaning and its ruling genius, the housewife with blood in her eye. In order to survive for a century, a picture has to live through endless raids by commandos armed with mops under the direction of generals who are determined to see the attic tidy. Through the agency of dealers whom they have inspired, collectors sometimes arrive at the last minute like the United States Marines to save invaluable old canvases from worse than death on scrapheap or bonfire. But if the collectors are apathetic, God help the poor picture!

A whole school of painting will vanish almost without a trace if during the century or two after the pictures were made no one is interested in preserving them. An example of such disappearance is supplied by the amateur canvases of the eighteenth century. The advertisements of drawing schools which often appeared in newspapers, and the references to amateur artists found in contemporary documents, make it clear that many American colonials drew for pleasure. Yet only a few isolated examples of their production are known today. Portraits executed by professional artists during that early period remain because they were treasured by descendants as a source of dynastic pride. But when a musty old amateur picture, odd in execution, shedding paint like a chicken in molt, turned up in a corner of an attic, nobody was interested. What would today create the greatest excitement was regarded as a piece of junk and treated accordingly.

It is a universal rule of taste that the parlor piece of one generation is the attic piece of the next. The third generation, however, usually comes to the rescue. The same tide that washes mother's Horatio Walker up into the lumber room brings down grandfather's Thomas Cole. But this

____________________
An earlier version of this essay appeared in Magazine of Art ( February 1945), 62-65.

-161-

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