19th Century American Paintings and Works on Paper
The evolution of styles in 19th-century American art captured the development of the country itself—from young, rural republic to international superpower. Influenced by the Romantics, Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School (the first homegrown American movement) celebrated nature and expanse in dramatic fashion in the early-mid century, their canvases an expression of American pride. Watercolor also gained new currency among serious painters, becoming a technique that would thrive in the last quarter of the century. By the 1860s and after the devastating Civil War, painters like Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins emphasized the dark and austere realism of everyday scenes in their work, responding also to the dominant style of European academies. This tradition of emulation continued in the 1870s and '80s with the American Impressionists, working outdoors to render hazy landscapes with broad brushwork. Likewise, Tonalism—a progressive movement of transcendentalists—treated nature expressively, even mysteriously, with a spiritual underpinning. At the close of the century, artists brilliantly showcased the wealth and opulence of turn-of-the-century Gilded Age society, though they never entirely strayed from classically American outdoor scenes. From the richly textured portraits of John Singer Sargent and stylized subjects of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, to Homer’s windswept landscapes, American art showcased both sophistication and the vast and fruitful American landscape.