American Art of Our Century

American Art of Our Century

American Art of Our Century

American Art of Our Century

Excerpt

In the art of the United States, the first decade of the twentieth century brought fundamental changes. These changes were more revolutionary than any in the preceding two and a half centuries of art in America.

Let us consider the state of American painting and sculpture in 1900. The nineteenth century had seen a great growth in creativity, sophistication, and relations with the art of other countries. From the comparative provincialism of the Hudson River school and the old genre and portrait schools, American art had grown toward maturity in the hands of the post-Civil War generation. Inness had founded a landscape tradition at once native and related to the Barbizon school; Homer and Eakins had given a new strength and depth to the picturing of the American scene; Ryder had transformed the old literal romanticism into an imaginative expression prophetic of much in modern art; La Farge had contributed, a riper knowledge of the great art of the past; the expatriates Whistler, Cassatt, and Sargent had made substantial contributions to the international art world; Saint-Gaudens had achieved the fullest embodiment of traditional ideals; the pioneer impressionists Robinson, Weir, Twachtman, and Hassam had brought from France the first vital movement since that of the Barbizon school. In this evolution, two main forces had been at work: native creativity, sometimes limited and provincial, but making its fundamental contribution; and international influences, which had furnished the necessary leaven of knowledge and new ideas. In the impact of the second force, there had been a time lag of a generation before European movements reached these shores; even impressionism had come to us fifteen years or so after its birth abroad. With all the growth that had taken place in the last third of the nineteenth century, the art of the United States was still a side current in the main stream of world art.

At the turn of the century had come a pause in the development of American art. Its older leaders were either no longer living or well on in years. The art world was in the hands of a younger generation, most of whom had studied in the academic schools abroad, particularly the Ecole des Beaux- Arts. Compared to their predecessors, they were less adventurous and more inclined to accept tradition, more cosmopolitan and less interested in the American scene. After Paris or Rome or Munich, the United States in its everyday aspects must have seemed raw and ugly, difficult to assimilate into art.

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