American Painting and sculpture




17th-Century Painting and Sculpture


Colonial art reflects that of the European colonizing nations, adapted to the dangers and harsh conditions of a vast wilderness. Spanish influences prevailed in the West, while English styles, with a leaven of Dutch and French, predominated in the East.


Outside the Southwest, native styles did not exert a lasting influence on colonial art.


Like colonial architecture, 17th-century colonial painting reflects English styles of at least a century earlier, which had been continued in the rural areas from which the colonists came.


The earliest paintings, all portraits, date from the 1660s in New England, a long generation after the founding of the colony.


the pair John Freake and Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary (circa 1674, Worcester, Massachusetts, Art Museum).


Portraiture began in the Hudson Valley area about the same time.


Religious paintings and church decoration were carried out in the Southwest during the century.


The french landscapist Claude Lorrain painted in the classical style


Sculpture in the 17th century on the East Coast was limited to applications of the decorative arts, in the carving of furniture and the shaping of metalwork in silver and iron.


The religious figures carved in the Southwest remain at the level of inspired folk sculpture.


18th-century painting and sculpture


Artists were active in several parts of the colonies.


Henrietta Johnston (active 1705-29), the first American woman artist, worked in Charleston, executing the earliest pastel portraits.


The most active school of painting was in the Hudson River valley, where the major landholders, or patrons, required portraits for their Dutch-style manor houses.


They based their compositions on English prints.


The school culminated in the monumental full-length portraits


Pieter Schuyler (circa 1719, City Hall, Albany, New York)


Ariandtje Schoomans (around 1717, Albany Institute of History and Art)


As the century advanced, artists with more training began to immigrate to the colonies.


Immigrated in 1729 to Boston, John Smibert, a successful London portraitist.


He worked in the school of the English portraitists Sir Godfrey Kneller and Thomas Hudson.


By 1750 the pace of artistic activity picked up considerably, with many more artists working than before.


The talented native-born portraitist Robert Feke was Smibert’s principal successor in New England


Joseph Blackburn (active in America 1753-64) in New England,


John Wollaston (active c. 1734-67) in New York and the mid-Atlantic colonies


Jeremiah Theusin in Charleston.


Two major artists of international significance emerged shortly after midcentury, Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley.


Trained in Philadelphia, West left for Italy and England in late 1759, becoming dean of the English neoclassical school and president of the Royal Academy. To his studio in London he welcomed a generation of American art students, among them the portraitist Gilbert Stuart.


Copley was reared in Boston. His talents developed rapidly in the early 1760s, and he brought colonial portraiture to entirely new levels of realism and psychological depth. His finest American works are marked by an almost obsessive literalness, supported by a mastery in the rendering of light and textures. Copley’s work during the decade before his departure (1774) for England represents the apex of painting in the colonial period.


Early 19th-century painting


Painting languished during the revolution.


The commissions of the Continental Congress went to the Philadelphian Charles Willson Peale, creator of the first monumental portraits of George Washington.


The prosperity that followed the Revolution supported a flowering of semi trained or folk portraiture in New England, headed by Ralph Earl.


Ralph Earl was the leading artist who returned from England after the Revolution who had been trained by Benjamin West in the neoclassical school of painting.


Gilbert Stuart was the finest portraitist of the generation, his skillful brushwork capturing the likenesses of many chief figures of the Federal period, including Washington


"Athenaeum" portrayal (1796, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).


John Trumbull returned to become the nation’s first history painter, recording the great moments of the Revolution in a series of paintings.


The Declaration of Independence (1794, Yale University Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut)


The Battle of Bunker’s Hill (1789, Yale University Gallery), later versions (1817-24)


An outstanding American romantic painter was Washington Allston, who returned from England in 1808 to produce landscapes and history paintings of great imaginative force.


Until at least 1840 painting continued to be dominated by portraiture in the romantic manner.


Thomas Sully created richly colored, strongly contrasted, and idealized images in