The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters

The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters

The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters

The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters

Excerpt

American visionary painting of about 1800 to 1850 differs, as a whole, from what comes afterward. It is louder, more Cecil B. De Mille-ish, more assertive, more self-conscious. The chosen scenes, at a quick glance, do not appear to be "normal"; for we find in them cloudprancing horses (West's Death on the Pale Horse ), haloed guardian angels (Cole's "Voyage of Life" series ), writing within space (All ston 's Belshazzar's Feast ), and a number of other miraculous effects. Certainly, scenes in much visionary painting after 1850 do not appear "normal" either, but withVedder,Rimmer, andLa Farge the imagery is inverted, esoterically personal, sometimes disturbingly remote, whereas the artists before 1850 deal with grand themes, sometimes culled from the Bible or from popular literature. And much of the painting after 1850 asserts itself as visionary only after our reflection, such as the forest pictures ofBlakelock, the early landscapes ofRyder, the late landscapes of Inness from 1884 to his death in 1894, the charming genre pieces ofNewman, and the fashionable drawing-room pictures ofDewing. In short, there is the awareness after 1850 that the uncanny, the ghostly, the surreal may lurk within the ordinaryseeming. As to the visionary painting before 1850, it can be so sentimentalized and, in general, so rhetorical that it is saved only by the utter sincerity of the artist from the high kitsch to which the pompousness of its theme and the grandiloquence of its treatment might have led it.

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