By Jules David Prown, John Walker, Alexis Gregory

The tale of yankee portray starts within the Colonial interval, within the 17th century. «The most blatant truth approximately early American painting,» writes Jules David Prown, «is that there has been so little of it. while eu colonists started to identify everlasting settlements at the jap flank of North the USA, that they had different issues on their minds than the portray of images. confronted with a urgent necessity to fulfill their basic existence needs—food, safeguard, clothing—they followed a life-style and a view of the realm that used to be unavoidably pragmatic. For them the humanities appeared dangerously inappropriate, a distraction from the intense initiatives to hand. That pragmatic angle has characterised American tradition from its inception to the current day, and has profoundly affected the trajectory of yank art.»

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Early in the century Bishop Berkeley had formulated a theory, repeated later by Benjamin Franklin, that the arts move westward. This theory noted that art had first been centered in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, then the one flowered in Greece, moved to Rome and, after the hiatus of the "dark ages," continued on from Renaissance Italy to France. Now, in the eighteenth century, England was arriving at pre-eminence, and it was logical to assume that the next step to the West would make the new world the next center for the arts.

In his large history paintings Copley completed the " revolution" begun by W^est, recording contemporary events with increasing realism of dress, setting, action and the portrayal of individuals present. sh contemporaries, may have reflected pragmatic and materialistic values of the provincial society from which they had sprung (the realism of Copley's American portraits as responsive to the vakies of his society has already been noted). If so, their achievement as history painters in England may stand as perhaps the earliest instance of an identifiable American contribution to the development of European art, and indeed one of the earliest American contributions to European culture.

The scene is tautly bound within a pyramidal arrangement, and despite its transitory nature, is locked in place forever. This monumental painting has sometimes been considered an important example of proto-Romanticism, anticipating such later works as Gericault's Raft of the Medusa. Watson does indeed reflect that eighteenth century fascination with the exotic and the horrible that forms part of the root structure of Romanticism, but the picture is quite orthodox in its composition. Nineteenth century artists may well have been aware of the painting, but Copley exercised more influence on David and French Neo-classicism through his portrait-filled history pictures.

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American Painting - From its beginnings to the Armory Show by Jules David Prown, John Walker, Alexis Gregory


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