Washington Allston, a Study of the Romantic Artist in America

Washington Allston, a Study of the Romantic Artist in America

Washington Allston, a Study of the Romantic Artist in America

Washington Allston, a Study of the Romantic Artist in America

Excerpt

In this volume I have returned to a problem which I discussed in Way of Western Art: What was the nature of that impulse toward an ideal and monumental art which was the first independent movement of American painting as it emerged from its apprenticeship in the Colonial portrait tradition? In modern times this ambitious, imaginative movement has been treated with nothing but ridicule as a preposterous failure, and, to some extent, in the previous study I accepted that unfavorable judgment, although with misgivings, so far as American painting was concerned. It was indeed a failure for the painters who took part in the movement: "lack of patronage and lack of adequate architectural settings for their pictures brought tragic disappointment to them all with one exception, and that, in some ways the least interesting of them, Benjamin West. Yet those of Allston's works which I had seen at that time did not look like failures; they were individual and strangely haunting pictures, obviously the work of an exceptional talent, although the aesthetic ideals of his period (1800-1840) differed widely from ours. But there had been no exhibition of Allston's works since 1881. No one in the twentieth century had cared to investigate him again. Even the location of many of the pictures on which his contemporary fame rested was unknown. It seemed important to study him more carefully than I had then had opportunity to do, not only for his own sake but as perhaps the key to the question of his whole period.

Allston is interesting also as a type of the artistic imagination. The problems of the imagination do not change so rapidly as the outward circumstances of life but remain to a large extent constant. To a great . . .

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