United States Painting and Sculpture from the Colonial Period to the Second World War

By | November 5, 2021

Compared to architecture, painting and sculpture remained subordinate to European models for a longer time, reaching original results only very late. In the early colonial period (seventeenth century) painting was expressed almost exclusively in portraiture: typical portraits by anonymous artisans, probably sign painters, called limners. Only in the second colonial period was a group of professionals established, often called back from Europe to meet the needs of settlers who had achieved a high social position. In the field of portraiture the name of J. Smilbert emerges, active in Boston since 1729, while initiators of history painting can be considered JS Copley and B. West; the first was able to create a personal, realistic and psychologically penetrating style, immortalizing the colonial era, the second preferred a more gallant genre, stylistically close to J. Reynolds, and had a large number of students, some of whom were famous in their time (G. Stuart, Ch. W. Poole etc.). During the sec. XVIII sculpture limited itself to copying the masterpieces of classical art, of which copies or plaster casts were imported from Europe. The most prominent personality was that of W. Rush, author of a famous bust of Lafayette. In the first half of the nineteenth century the transition from neoclassicism to romanticism was characterized by the affirmation of landscape painting, which found its best expression in the Hudson River School. Among the main exponents of the group are T. Cole, who painted grandiose forests characterized by an almost apocalyptic vision, AB Durand and H. Inman, aimed at portraying more serene images of the boundless landscapes of the New World; Durand, in particular, for his meticulous descriptive realism was very close to the French landscape painters of Barbizon. We should also remember W. Homer and G. Catlin, the latter illustrator of the life of the Indians of the prairies.

According to topb2bwebsites, the transition to Impressionism is marked by the personalities of J. McNeill Whistler, M. Cassatt, J. Singer Sargent and T. Robinson; their experience, however, took place largely in the European context. The work of A. Ryder constituted a singular precedent of surrealism in his visionary thrust. Sculpture was dominated throughout the nineteenth century by neoclassical influences, but with rather modest results; the only personality endowed with a certain expressive autonomy was that of A. Saint Gaudens. If the Group of Eight, formed at the beginning of the twentieth century in the wake of European post-impressionism, represented a significant approach of American painting to the most advanced international experiences, a truly fundamental date is to be considered 1913, the year in which the famous exhibition of the Armory Show (so called because it was set up in a barracks) which, presenting works by H. Matisse, P. Picasso, G. Braque, C. Brancusi etc., opened the American figurative culture to the revolution of the European avant-gardes and was decisive for the formation of an original artistic language. Among the most representative artists of the new cultural climate of the first twenty years of the twentieth century we must remember J. Marin, interpreter of Fauves and Cubist ways, S. MacDonald Wright and M. Russell, whose name is linked to the current of synchromism, J. Stella, futurist, L. Feininger, M. Ray, G. O’Keeffe, S. Davis, variously linked to cubist, expressionist or abstract. It was in the USA that M. Duchamp, F. Picabia and Man Ray gave birth to the first dada magazine, ” 291 “, in 1918. After the First World War there was a return to figurative representations with the group of precisionists (or immaculate ones) who, through extreme object simplification, wanted to reproduce the characteristics of American civilization.

A figurative-realistic tendency, also due to the reaction against European cultural intrusiveness, also prevailed in the years of the crisis and the New Deal, finding the support of both the artists of the American Scene (traditionalists and chauvinists), and of those socially engaged (E. Hopper, J. Levine, B. Shahn, W. Gropper). The Nazi dictatorship in Germany and the events of the Second World War produced the exodus to the United States of some of the most important European artists, from J. Albers to L. Moholy-Nagy, from M. Beckmann to F. L├ęger to P. Mondrian. This was fundamental for the affirmation of abstractionism in America, where as early as 1936 the society of American Abstract Artists was established and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for non-figurative art was created.

United States Painting and Sculpture