Throughout the history of our nation, American painting has been confused and impeded by physical and cultural isolation. First-class old master canvases have always been rare in this land, available only in a few cities. Although examples of the European art then contemporary have been imported in every generation, the men who created them and the studios in which they were created have remained across three thousand miles of ocean. Foreign traditions have never been assimilated in the United States, and yet no intelligent man can deny that these traditions have, down the ages, created a greater art than our own.
From the beginning, this situation has placed our painters in a dilemma. The America that was their birthright was an exciting land, and, in any case, it was irrevocably built into their personalities, by environment even if not by heredity. On the other hand, the masterpieces which seemed in every lifetime to be signposts pointing the way to immortality were created in distant lands under different conditions to express another way of life. Blending European skill with American experience has always been a most puzzling labor. Most artists have found it easier either to forget the great traditions or to forget the United States. As time has passed, these two solutions have been accepted alternately, in a sort of rough pendulum swing.
Although American painting dates back to at least 1660, not till 1760 did an important American painter set foot in Europe. The art of the Colonial period was, of necessity, largely a native growth. However, the same increase in power and prosperity that inspired the American Revolution propelled our painters abroad. For two generations, American artists played a role on the world stage. The first of these generations adhered to native roots and prospered; the second attempted to become completely Europeanized and failed so dismally that the pendulum suddenly leapt to the other extreme. In the 1830s, the members of the Hudson River and related schools became passionately dedicated to de-