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ARTH210: American Art

Unit 4: The Civil War Era to the Gilded Age   The visual culture of the Civil War is extensive, with the explosion of the popular illustrated press.  For the first time, the death and devastation of war was conveyed to those removed from the action through photography. * Naturalistic, “realistic” styles become pervasive.  The progress, hopes, and disintegration of the **Reconstruction platform for African Americans was documented by and expressed through art.  During the same period, the Indian Wars were brought to their devastating conclusion.  Impressionism came to American late in the century, when nouveau riche industrialists began many of America’s major art collections.   *

4.1 The War Years   Note: Leaving behind the heroic military painting of the past, Winslow Homer and other prominent artists of the era infused war scenes and ancillary subjects with up-close, subtle solemnity.  They also provided eyewitness sketches of the conflict for reproduction in illustrated journals.  Commemorative prints included African American soldiers, although public war memorials and commemorations of the Emancipation Proclamation were fraught with racial politics. 

  • Web Media: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915” Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click “Stories of War and Reconciliation, 1860-1877”; read the introduction.  Click on the first image, Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South (1859).  Many scholars have written about the meanings and messages of this work.  It came to be known as “Old Kentucky Home,” even though it depicts black life in Washington, D.C. on the eve of the Civil War.  (Washington had a substantial population of free blacks by then, but slavery was not outlawed in the city until 1862).  Note the banjo player; among the many 19th-century portrayals of black musicians, the banjo, an African-derived instrument, appears most frequently.  Many portrayals of black muscians during this time are overtly racist, others, sympathetic or ambiguous.  See brief examples at the following links:
                           
    -The Long Island Museum: “William Sidney Mount, Banjo Player, 1856” (HTML)
    Note: this is an image that was widely marketed in its time in prints.
     
    -Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue: “Tobacco Product label, 1859” (HTML)
     
    -Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue: “Poster for Minstrel Troupe, c. 1869” (HTML)
    Note: A backlash in severe stereotypes picked up after the war and reconstruction; compare the image linked above to the next one.
     
    -Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue: “Commercial Photograph, 1897” (HTML)
                           
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  • Reading: Carnegie Magazine Online: Nona Martin’s “Civil War Symbolism” Link: Carnegie Magazine Online: Nona Martin’s “Civil War Symbolism” (HTML)
               
    Instructions: This is an analysis of Eastman Johnson’s painting, Union Soldiers Accepting a Drink, 1865.  In a new window, open a better reproduction of the work to refer to while reading, available at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
     
    Note on the link: This article appeared in the Carnegie Magazine Online, LXIII, no.7 (January/February 1997). 
     
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  • Web Media: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Winslow Homer: Prisoners from the Front (22.207) [1866]” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Winslow Homer: Prisoners from the Front (22.207) [1866]” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Examine this image and read the brief entry on it.  Then, on the right, under the heading “Thematic Essays,” read the brief biographical sketch of Homer.   Then return to main page and find the link (lower right) to the Natalie Spassky’s extensive scholarly essay, "Winslow Homer: At The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”  Please read the essay in full (it may take a few minutes to download).   The article goes through Homer’s oeuvre chronologically and by theme; he began as a printer’s apprentice, influenced by Impressionism in his later work.  You can read more about him via this supplemental overview, which emphasizes his later work, by The National Gallery of Art.  Additional sites that may be of interest to you if you wish to study Homer further:
               
    -Son of the South’s “Winslow Homer Civil War Prints” (HTML)
     Note: Browse the site for war sketches by Winslow Homer.
     

    • Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue: “Civil War Photographs” (HTML)
      Note: Browse, via the left-hand-side menu choices, the introduction to war photography; note sections on photographer Matthew Brady and the section titled “Taking Photographs during the Civil War.”
       
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  • Web Media: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Stories of War and Reconciliation” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Stories of War and Reconciliation” (HTML)

    Instructions: Return to the section “Stories of War and Reconciliation,” where we began with Eastman Johnson’s painting, Life at the South.  Continue to view the remaining 23 images/entries.
     
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  • Web Media: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Thomas Waterman Wood” Link:  Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Thomas Waterman Wood” (HTML)
      
    Instructions:  Type in "Waterman Wood"; Look at Wood’s Triptych, titled “A Bit of War History”(1884); it is represented here as 3 images, to be viewed separately.  Click “Next” to scroll to the all the pictures in the Triptych. It appears a sympathetic view of African Americans in the Union Army, particularly runaways (from the South).  Stylistically, it may be considered “mainstream” for its time, with naturalistic flourishes.  It remains relatively tightly painted, with an overall staged sensibility.

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  • Web Media: University of Delaware Library Special Collections Department: “The Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, 1876: An introduction to America’s First ‘World’s Fair’” Links: University of Delaware Library Special Collections Department: “The Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, 1876: An introduction to America’s First ‘World’s Fair’” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: By the early 1870s, all manner of Civil War monuments were being erected on local and regional levels.  Planning for a national celebration of the forthcoming centennial had begun.  Two African American artists were included in these plans: Edwin M. Bannister, primarily a landscape painter with a Realist style, and Mary Edmonia Lewis (aka “Edmonia,” also of Ijibwe heritage).  Read about the plans for the World Fair on the University of Delaware page.
     
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  • Web Media: American Art from the Howard University Collection: “Oral Narrations by Tritobia” Link: American Art from the Howard University Collection: “Oral Narrations by Tritobia” (RealPlayer)
     
    Instructions: Choose “Edward M. Bannister,” then, “Video” (at left) for brief audio text.  Return to index page; choose “Mary Edmonia Lewis, ‘Forever Free’”; this work is perhaps the first known sculptural commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation, although it was not the work exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition.  Note: browse the web briefly for other possible other views of this work.
     
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  • Reading: Lakewood Public Library (Ohio): “Women in History: Edmonia Lewis Biography” Link: Lakewood Public Library (Ohio): “Women in History: Edmonia Lewis Biography” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the linked entry above, which was last updated 3/9/2010 [as of 10/9/10].
     
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  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum: “Edmonia Lewis” Link:  Smithsonian American Art Museum: “Edmonia Lewis” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click the titles of the listed works by Edmonia Lewis to see enlargement feature/view “largest” for each work (8).  
     
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  • Reading: Wikipedia’s “Emancipation Memorial” Link:  Wikipedia’s “Emancipation Memorial” (HTML)

    Instructions:  Read this entry on Thomas Ball’s The Emancipation Memorial (aka The Freedman’s Memorial), erected 1876 in Lincoln Park, Washington, DC.
     
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  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 2 Link: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 2 (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Compare the form and iconography of Thomas Ball’s Emancipation Memorialwith Lewis’s Forever Free.  What are the messages of each figure and each group as a whole, in your opinion?   Consider that African Americans paid for the work; as today, various official and other committees would have had to approve the design of any public work.   

  • Reading: Wikipedia’s “The Gross Clinic” Link: Wikipedia’s “The Gross Clinic” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read this summary on Thomas Eakins’s most famous painting, The Gross Clinic, 1875.   This portrait of a renowned surgeon at work is the epitome of the Realist style in America painting.   See also the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s exhibition website:  An Eakins Masterpiece Restored: Seeing The Gross Clinic Anew.  The focus is on restoration of the painting (2009-2010), which had been altered by various cleanings, to its original shadowy palette.
     
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  • Web Media: National Gallery of Art: “August Saint-Gaudens’ Monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment” Link: National Gallery of Art: August Saint-Gaudens’ Monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Take the complete “Tour,” reading all subsections.  This describes the decades-long project, from concept to installment of the bronze original monument in Boston Commons.  (Sketches as well as plaster and bronze studies are extensive.) 
     
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  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 3 Link: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 3 (PDF)
     

    Instructions: Visit the online exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915.” From the section titled “Stories of War and Reconciliation, 1860-1877,” choose two paintings by any two different artists except Eastman Johnson or Winslow Homer.  Write a comparative essay, 2 – 3 typed double-spaced pages in length.  Begin with data and a summary statement or two about the thrust of your comparison.  In other words, what is the comparison meant to elucidate about painting in the period?  (For example, similar or diverse views of a subject or issue, use of iconography, aspects of period style, etc.)  You might continue with an integrated comparison or move to prominent aspects of each, then conclude with direct comparison.

4.2 The Late 19th Century   Note: Impressionism originated in France in the 1870s and took some time to cross the Atlantic, where it also generally remained closer to earlier naturalistic Realism (as we have seen in later Homer works).  Industrialism and mercantilism demanded new architectural forms.  In a backlash to Reconstruction, graphic racial stereotypes facilitated the on-set of *“Jim Crow”*** segregation.

  • Web Media: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915” Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click “Cosmopolitan and Candid Stories of War and Reconciliation, 1860-1877.”  Read the introduction and click on the images/entries numbered 1 – 27. 
     
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4.2.1 American Impressionism   - Reading: SmartHistory: “Impressionism” Link: SmartHistory: “Impressionism” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this brief essay by Beth Gersh-Nesic.  
 
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  • Web Media: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Barbara Weinberg’s "American Impressionism” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Barbara Weinberg’s "American Impressionism” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this essay; click each thumbnail/description (11). 
     
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4.2.2 The World’s Columbia Exposition, 1893 / Turn of the Century   - Reading: University of Delaware Library Special Collections Department: “World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893” and Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago: Robert W. Rydell’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” Link: University of Delaware Library Special Collections Department: “World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893” (HTML) and Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago: Robert W. Rydell’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read the two entries linked above.  There are many
studies on racial tensions in post-Reconstruction American at the
World’s Columbian Exhibition, where “Aunt Jemima,” a logo developed
a few years earlier, was brought to life in a product exhibition. 
(Her look and early incarnations were drawn from earlier “mammy”
characters of black minstrelsy.)  Overtly or covertly racist
graphics were common in period advertising, suggesting the growing
appeal (in white society) of nostalgic **antebellum** sentiment that
ushered in the “Jim Crow” order with the infamous “Plessy verses
Ferguson” legal decision of 1896.  (This decision allowed states to
implement segregation.)  Images are readily available in web
searches, keyed to an active market in early “black collectibles.” 
Those interested can start with:  Wikipedia’s [“Aunt
Jemima”](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunt_Jemima).  
    
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displayed on the webpage above.
  • Web Media: Mark Harden’s Artchive, “Henry Ossawa Tanner” Link: Mark Harden’s Artchive, “Henry Ossawa Tanner” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the linked essay, click the image list, and focus on The Banjo Lesson, 1993.  Tanner is the most renowned African American painter born in the 19th century. 
    He exhibited and delivered a lecture at the World’s Columbian Exposition.  Think about how the painting works in a dialogue with some past related images/themes we have looked at.  What are the basic style(s) reflected in the painting?
     
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  • Reading: Emerging Infectious Diseases: P. Potter’s “Artistic Light and Capturing the Immeasurable” Link: Emerging Infectious Diseases: P. Potter’s “Artistic Light and Capturing the Immeasurable” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read this brief analysis of light effects in The Banjo Lesson.  It originally appeared in February 2008.
     
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  • Web Media: Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: Will South’s “A Missing Question Mark: the Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner” Link: Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: Will South’s “A Missing Question Mark: the Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This extensive article gives insight into in-depth professional, critical research on individual artists and issues concerning their personal and professional motivations and intentions.  Please keep in mind that this is only one interpretation of Tanner’s views toward race as an issue in his life and art. 

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  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum Online Exhibitions Homepage: “Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Mystical Painter” Link: Smithsonian American Art Museum Online Exhibitions Homepage: “Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Mystical Painter” (Adobe Flash)
     
    Instructions: Scroll down and choose “Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Mystical Painter.”  Enter the Flash site and view entire presentation with images. 
     
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  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum: “The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (2003)” Link: Smithsonian American Art Museum: The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (2003)” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Run through the slide show of 60 images/entries; please stop to enlarge several.  This resource provides an excellent visual overview of aesthetics associated with “Gilded Age” America.
     
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  • Web Media: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Barbara H. Winberg’s "John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Barbara H. Winberg’s "John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)”  (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read more about Sargent (represented in several sites above), the most famous American portrait painter of the era. 
     
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  • Web Media: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen and Monica Obniski’s "Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933)” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen and Monica Obniski’s "Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933)” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Tiffany, who specialized in stained glass, is perhaps the most renowned practitioner of decorative artist in this era.  Read this essay and view the embedded images.  Follow article links given for further introduction to this field. 
     
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  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 4 Link: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 4 (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Choose one artist viewed in this section (4.2.3).  Write a short essay (1 to 2 typed, double-spaced pages) in the style of an “encyclopedia entry.”  Summarize the significance/contribution of the artist to culture of the era, in your critical opinion.  Give an overall stylistic description characteristic of the artist’s oeuvre, and mention 2 – 3 specific works of art that best illustrate your assessments.

4.2.3 Special Topics   - Web Media: National Museum of America History, Smithsonian Institution: “Keeping History: Plains Indian Ledger Drawing” Link: National Museum of America History, Smithsonian Institution: “Keeping History: Plains Indian Ledger Drawing” (HTML)
 
Instructions: View the full presentation of these late 19th-century drawings via the link at bottom of the page: “Visit Website.”
 
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  • Reading: Connexions: Stephen Frederick’s "Introduction: The Birth of American Artist Printmaking” Link: Connexions: Stephen Frederick’s "Introduction: The Birth of American Artist Printmaking” (HTML)
     
    Also available in:
    PDF
    ePub format
     
    Instructions: Frederick’s article provides insight into the interest of artists who considered themselves primarily painters in terms of late 19th century printmaking techniques and aesthetics, as well as commercial aspects.
     
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