Prophetic Pictures: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Knowledge and Uses of the Visual Arts

Prophetic Pictures: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Knowledge and Uses of the Visual Arts

Prophetic Pictures: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Knowledge and Uses of the Visual Arts

Prophetic Pictures: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Knowledge and Uses of the Visual Arts

Synopsis

This study takes an unusual approach to Nathaniel Hawthorne's knowledge and uses of the visual arts by tracing his encounters with art in New England, then focusing on his determined effort to acquire a taste for painting at the Manchester Exhibition in 1857. The authors explore Hawthorne's responses to art as he traveled through France and Italy, and discuss his continuing interest in the visual arts once he returned to America. A special section contains Hawthorne's responses to selected works of art, together with photographs of the works themselves.

Excerpt

Only in recent years has the full range of Nathaniel Hawthorne's knowledge of the visual arts and his attitudes toward artists and their work begun to emerge. Earlier statements about Hawthorne and the visual arts had not always been judicious, even though they often came from widely respected critics. To fairminded students of Hawthorne's life and works, the words of Van Wyck Brooks (1958) and Henry James (1879), for example, grossly misrepresented Hawthorne's stock of information and attitudes. First Brooks:

Hawthorne had little feeling for art, and it was largely to please his wife that he dragged himself through miles of picture galleries. (136)

Next James:

The plastic sense was not strong in Hawthorne; there can be no better proof of it than his curious aversion to the representation of the nude in sculpture. This aversion was deep-seated; he constantly returns to it, exclaiming upon the incongruity of modern artists making naked figures. He apparently quite failed to see that nudity is not an incident, or accident, of sculpture, but its very essence and principle; and his jealousy of undressed images strikes the reader as a strange, vague, long-dormant heritage of his straight-laced Puritan ancestry. Whenever he talks of statues he makes a great point of the smoothness and whiteness of the marble--speaks of the surface of the marble as if it were half of the beauty of the image; and when he discourses on pictures, one feels that the brightness or dinginess . . .

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