Unknown Artist, American 19th Century
The significant socio-political, economic and cultural developments that occurred in the United States during the 19th century are manifested in a diverse array of artistic styles and themes. In the 18th century, the restrained limner tradition of portraiture associated with Puritan society was replaced in the Gilded Age by more ostentatious images of wealth and fashionable elegance. Due to the major demographic shifts that occurred in the 1800s, anecdotal genre scenes of everyday life became more popular as a means to document social types and regional experience. The dominant artistic trend was landscape painting, which evolved from prosaic topographic views in the early 19th century to the more panoramic scenes of the Hudson River School that celebrated the nation’s pride in the pristine beauty and imposing grandeur of American nature. In contrast, other movements such as Luminism and Tonalism offered more intimate and evocative depictions suggestive of a spiritual presence and harmony residing within the American landscape. The country’s artistic maturity was reflected in the formation of the American Impressionist style, which rivaled European innovations in the empirical study of light and color. Although Americans were committed to the future progress of the nation throughout the 19th century, much of the art tended to idealize and mythologize American life and nature, assuring its citizens of the continuity of pre-industrial social beliefs in the face of uncertain modern change.
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