Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings

By Mary Ann Calo | Go to book overview

Ariadne, with her "noble visage" and classical Greek allusions, harks back to a vanished golden age of good Indians that white America had wrongfully or rightfully superseded, depending on one's point of view. Yet at the same time, with her brazen, sensual nakedness and her unalert captivity in sleep, she might also be a reminder of the bad Indians of the present, who were stereotyped as overly sensual, immodest, and indolent. 26 In either case, the story--and with it the visual image--of a princess deceived, corrupted, and betrayed simply does not make good national mythology, the purpose of which is to instruct, inspire, and elicit public pride. This may be one of the reasons why the painting, despite its salient narrative and iconographic similarities to popular plays, fiction, and visual images that alluded explicitly to the American Indian, was so soon relegated to the margins of American art history. It was abandoned by a historiography that, with nationalistic purposes of its own, was not likely to care for the sad tale of racial betrayal and woe that Ariadne, when viewed in the context of such bedeviling social matters, calls to mind.

While we cannot prove that Vanderlyn Ariadne allegorizes the despoilment of the innocent native American by the devious white man from across the sea, a link between the painting and a society implicated in that despoilment seems clear. And although Vanderlyn's intentions are unknown, as is the early-nineteenth-century viewers' reception of the work, we are able to situate the painting within the powerfully determining context of nationalism and westward expansion, Indian wars, collective white guilt and apologetics, disdain for the Indians of the present, nostalgia for their now-extinct ancestors, and an active, often profitable Indian industry-- whether in academic painting, popular iconography, romantic fiction, sensationalist biography, or stage melodrama.

Placed within its historical context of national expansion and Indian crisis, Vanderlyn Ariadne no longer seems so puzzlingly nonpolitical compared to Marius and Jane McCrea. Here too the painter was giving pictorial form to a myth of timely import. Unfortunately for Vanderlyn, however, this latter myth of seduction and abandonment was not one a white American audience would have appreciated, for in this particular melodrama their role was that of betrayer rather than betrayed.


NOTES

Revised by the author from Smithsonian Studies in American Art (Spring 1989). Reprinted by permission of the author and the National Museum of Art.

My thanks to the Stanford Humanities Center, where I wrote much of this essay, and to the American Council of Learned Societies for additional support.

1.
Samuel Y. Edgerton Jr., "The Murder of Jane McCrea: The Tragedy of an American 'Tableau d'Histoire,'" Art Bulletin 47 ( December 1965): 481-89; and Kathleen H. Pritchard, "John Vanderlyn and the Massacre of Jane McCrea," Art Quarterly 12 ( 1949): 361-66. Written at the close of the eighteenth century, The Columbiad was not actually published until 1807.
2.
Kenneth C. Lindsay, The Works of John Vanderlyn: From Tammany to the Capitol ( Binghamton, N.Y. University Art Gallery, 1970), pp. 71-73, sees Marius as Vanderlyn's tribute to his close friend and former patron, Aaron Burr, who had recently suffered a series of notorious political reversals. This interpretation, of course, does not eliminate a Napoleonic interpretation so much as run parallel to it.
3.
William Townsend Oedel, "John Vanderlyn French Neoclassicism and the Search for an American Art" ( Ph.D. diss., University of Delaware, Newark 1981), pp. 13, 396.
4.
John Durand, The Life and Times of A. B. Durand ( New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894), pp. 76-77.

-56-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 328

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.