Survey of American Painting: October Twenty-Fourth [To] December Fifteenth, 1940

Survey of American Painting: October Twenty-Fourth [To] December Fifteenth, 1940

Survey of American Painting: October Twenty-Fourth [To] December Fifteenth, 1940

Survey of American Painting: October Twenty-Fourth [To] December Fifteenth, 1940

Excerpt

"There is a kind of luxury in seeing, as well as there is in eating and drinking; the more we indulge, the less are we to be restrained."

JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY

A SURVEY such as ours is one of compilation rather than research. We desire to present the complete course of that elusive quality called art as set forth by accepted painting in the United States, even if an occasional turn in that course is not approved by present-day standards. For each new generation with its new set of values toward life produces a new interpretation of art, thought of in terms of some new disillusionment.

Last winter, in the American Museum of Natural History, I went with Roy Chapman Andrews, its Director, to see an Audubon painting of a ground squirrel. Then Dr. Andrews took me into the African room, which cost, he told me, about two million dollars. I did wish we could display our paintings in as interesting a fashion as he had shown even one of his groups of antelopes set forth in their natural surroundings. Our present art- museum manner of hanging paintings sadly parallels the old-fashioned natural-history-museum method of setting up unadorned stuffed animals, and that is why the public reviews pictures as a philatelist reviews his album. This is all wrong.

Pictures, like stamps, are created for a purpose. The purpose of paintings is to sublimate the local sense of adornment as it conforms to the March of social history. So to appreciate a painting properly we do need with each canvas at least some small visual symbol of the social life that surrounded it. If we could see the picture of "Dean Berkeley and His Entourage" above a ladder-back chair, we might know better why Smibert painted like Smibert. If a composition by Walter Shirlaw could hang above an overstuffed horsehair sofa, we might better gain a whiff of an understanding of "The Toning of the Bell." We cannot, I know, have these "props" in such an exhibition as ours. Instead, therefore, I am hopeful that a preliminary word of the way in which the success of Copley, or Duveneck, or Speicher has been interwoven with the pattern of his social fabric may add to our understanding of what hangs on the walls.

We speak of our earliest paintings as "primitives." I am not sure why we take such pride in the word. For while these "primitives" provide us with a moment of amused contemplation in our whirligig world, still they . . .

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