Interior America

In the thirties the WPA decided it would be good to know just what the insides of Victorian homes, offices, and stores had looked like. The artist-historian Perkins Harnly created a sumptuous record.

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Angel In The Parlor: The Art Of Abbott Thayer

He loved women so much he painted wings on them. After years of neglect, he is now being appreciated.

VISITORS TO a performance by the Kneisel String Quartet in New York City one autumn afternoon in 1894 may well have been distracted from the sonorities of Beethoven by a strangely dressed man in the audience. In contrast to the stylish appearance of the rest of the music lovers, he wore a rumpled corduroy hunting suit, a battered felt hat, rubber boots, and a frayed handkerchief wound round his head and tied under his chin, as if to relieve a toothache.Read more »

Patchwork Primitives


The teasingly familiar scene above is not, as one would suppose, the work of an anonymous nineteenth-century folk artist. It is a painting done in 1951 by none other than the first lady of American folk art, Jean Lipman, who, for over thirty years as the editor of Art in America and author of countless articles and books on the subject, has done more to make folk art “a major chapter in the history of American art” than any other enthusiast of the genre. Read more »

Town & Country

The Smaller, Greener Baltimore of Francis Guy

Sometime in 1799 a luckless British-born artisan “boldly undertook,” in the words of the portraitist Rembrandt Peale, “to be an artist, although he did not know how to draw.” The result of this unprovoked commitment is a delightful series of portraits of the seedtime of a great city. Read more »

Tribute To A Feathered Tempest

The great swarm of birds on the preceding two pages (a detail of which appears below) was painted by Michigan artist Lewis Luman Cross in 1900. Even at that date, it had to be painted from memory, for by the turn of the century the million-membered flocks of passenger pigeons that once darkened the Midwestern skies had been driven to the edge of extinction by hunters. Fifteen years later they were extinct, the last pigeon dying in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.Read more »

Democracy Delineated

Declaring himself a “thorough democrat” George Caleb Bingham portrayed the American voter with an artist’s eye—and a seasoned politicians savvy

Between 1847 and 1855 George Caleb Bingham completed a half dozen or so canvases that are among the most unusual and interesting documents in the history of American painting. They are well known to students, critics, and art historians but they are only occasionally reproduced in books that celebrate the “finest” American paintings. Others of Bingham’s works are duly included in such selective compilations, for at his best he was a highly competent artist. Read more »

An Artist Among The Shakers

“I had come to visit the people in that quiet Shaker village upon the mountain terrace,” Benson John Lossing wrote in August of 1856. This prolific author and illustrator, best remembered for his monumental Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution , planned to write an article about the New Lebanon community for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine . His sympathetic account, illustrated with engravings based upon the watercolors in the following portfolio, appeared the following year.Read more »

“American Art Really Exists”

said a New York newspaper when the Metropolitan opened its American Wing in 1924. This spring, a new, grander American Wing once again displays the collection that Lewis Mumford found “not merely an exhibition of art,” but “a pageant of American history.”

The reopening of the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing this spring deserves the great attention it is likely to get. During the several years that the Wing has been closed for rehabilitation and for new construction that will more than double the size of the old premises, most of the museum’s collections of American art have been in storage. But even in such confinement they continued to grow in size, scope, and importance.Read more »

Art Of The People

A major new exhibition celebrates the bright, idiosyncratic paintings of America’s folk artists

In 1938 the pioneer American folk-art enthusiast Jean Lipman set down a thoughtful answer to a question that still is being debated: what marks the difference between a primitive masterpiece and an ignorant daub? “The typical American primitive,” Lipman concluded, is “based … upon what the artist knew rather than upon what he saw, and so the facts of physical reality were largely sifted through the mind and personality of the painter.Read more »

The Colossus Of Staten Island

A ponderous memorial to a people who refused to vanish


Had one man’s grandiose vision been realized, the first sight to greet immigrants arriving in the New World after 1913 would not have been Bartholdi’s graceful, torch-bearing Goddess of Liberty, but something more nearly resembling the world’s largest cigar-store Indian. Read more »