Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)

By Harold Edward Dickson | Go to book overview

Bladwood's Edinhurgh Magazine
(1824-1825)

THE FINE ARTS generally, are neglected by the Americans. By this I mean, that they, the Americans, do not themselves cultivate them. They have foreign musical composers, and sculptors, among them -- (most of whom are indigent, or starving,) but none of their own. Capellano, the first sculptor of the King of Spain; Causici, one of Canova's finest, and most gifted pupils, both men of high talent, are actually in a state of abject dependance, now in America. Architecture is hardly in a better state. I know of no capital American architect; and the foreigners, who are unfortunately driven to America, in the hope of legislating for palaces, are, without one exception, in a very precarious and unpleasant condition.

In fact -- for we must deal plainly in these matters, whatever may be our partialities -- I do not scruple to say, that the North American republic is one of the last countries in the world for refuge to a devotee of the fine arts, who may be, no matter for what reason, weary of the old world -- particularly if he be a man of extraordinary power. A second or third-rate musical composer, performer, architect, sculptor, etc., etc., if he cannot get bread at home, will be able to get bread -- but nothing more -- in America. By bread, I mean, such a provision as will keep him alive, dependant, and wretched. If he be of the anointed few -- the exalted -- he will probably starve, die of a broken heart, or destroy himself; for such men will not barter their inspiration for bread; their immortality for a mess of pottage.

But enough of this for the present. Hereafter, there may be found a better occasion for dwelling on these points. I shall pass them over now, together with all that relates to the fine arts, except in the department of painting. In this the Americans have made a surprising proficiency; surprising, not only by comparison with what they have done in every other department; but surprising, (if we consider their numbers, infancy, and want of encouragement,) when compared with what we ourselves have done, or any other people, during the same period.

But then, the most celebrated of these American painters have been educated in this country; and some of them have been born here.

The following are the names of those, who have been, at one time or another, known in Great Britain or France, with a brief criticism on each.

COPLEY -- HISTORICAL AND PORTRAIT PAINTER. He was an American by birth; a capital portrait painter, for the time; and, if I may judge by a small but very good picture, in the Blue-Coat School here, which I am told

-26-

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Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Selections from the Writings of John Neal *
  • Randolph, a Novel (1823) 1
  • Bladwood's Edinhurgh Magazine (1824-1825) 26
  • The Yankee (1828-1829) 38
  • Brother Jonathan (1843) 66
  • The Atlantic Monthly (1868-1869) 69
  • Appendix 93
  • Index 109
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