The Peales

‘The ingenious Captain Peale” sired a dynasty of painters and started America’s first great museum.

The aide-de-camp strode into the painting room and handed a message to General Washington, who was sitting for his portrait, a miniature for Mrs. Washington. “Ah,” he remarked alter a mere glance, “Burgoyne is defeated.” And then, supremely honoring his young friend the artist, that imperturbable man put aside the dispatch for later study and resumed the pose.Read more »

The Cult Of The Primitives

There is one statement about old American art which most educated Americans, whatever their further ignorance of the subject, cherish. Read more »

Who’s That Girl?

GRANT WOOD’S STERN-VISAGED IOWA FARMER LOOKS OLD ENOUGH TO BE HER FATHER. IS HE?

Scores of readers chided us for using Grant Wood’s American Gothic on our November cover to illustrate a story about divorce: Don’t we know that the pair in the painting are father and daughter, not husband and wife? We could hardly have gotten more letters if we’d identified Emanuel Leutze’s best-known painting as Jefferson Crossing the Delaware .

 
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When Pop Turned The Art World Upside Down

Andy Warhol and friends oversaw the death of a centuries-old tradition and the birth of the postmodern.

“It was like a science fiction movie—,” wrote the late curator and art critic Henry Geldzahler, “you Pop artists in different parts of the city, unknown to each other, rising up out of the muck and staggering forward with your paintings in front of you.” Geldzahler’s lines, with their playful lugubriousness, were apt. When the innovators of pop embarked on their mature work, much of which was uncannily similar and all of which explored the same terrain—American consumer culture—almost none knew what any of the others were doing, or even that they existed. Pop arose spontaneously, an authentic movement, an organic response to new realities.

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The Heretic

At the height of the American avant-garde movement, Fairfield Porter’s realistic paintings defied the orthodoxy of Abstract Expressionism— and risked rejection by the art world. But today his true stature is becoming apparent: He may just be the best we have.

 
In his lifetime Fairfield Porter (1907–75) appeared on no one’s list of the greatest American painters of the twentieth century. Although he was respected and admired for both his painting and his criticism from the early 1950s on, Porter achieved neither the popular celebrity nor the critical acclaim that attended the ballyhooed careers of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol.

It is easy to see why.Read more »

The Inlander

His contemporaries saw the painter Charles Burchfield as another regionalist. Today it seems clear that the region was the human spirit.

Toward the end of his life, Charles Burchfield wrote a description of a place that had haunted him since he was a schoolboy. It was “some fabulous Northland unlike any place on earth—a land of deep water-filled gashes in the earth; old lichen-covered cliffs and mesas, with black spruce forests reflected in the pools, against which swans gleam miraculously.” Read more »

Presidents In The Woods

AN OHIO UNDERTAKER’S LIFELONG obsession has left a mysterious outdoor gallery of American folk art

 

HIGH ON A RIDGE IN A REMOTE, HEAVILY WOODED AREA OF SOUTHEASTERN Ohio, a towering stone figure of Warren G. Harding guards a rarely traveled gravel road. Barely visible through the undergrowth a hundred feet farther down the road are strange figures carved into sandstone outcroppings: an eagle in flight, an elephant’s head, Abraham Lincoln, an Indian chief. A crouching lion and a wildcat cast wary eyes at passersby. Read more »

Covarrubias

He may have been the greatest caricaturist of all time—he has imitators to this day—but his true passion was for a very different discipline

The trouble was, he couldn’t say no to anyone. Badgered by magazine editors, book publishers, theater producers, political agitators, and college presidents to contribute his talents to their interests, Miguel Covarrubias said yes to all, forgetting that there were limits to even his energies. In time his careless acquiescences would prove ruinous, but until then he enjoyed enormous success as anthropologist, author, painter, muralist, stage designer, and—most especially—caricaturist. Read more »

The Artistic Triumph Of New York

World War I made the city the financial capital of the world. Then after World War II a very few audacious painters and passionate critics made it the cultural capital as well. Here is how they seized the torch from Europe.

Mark Tansey is a definitively post-modernist painter. His pictures stand at two removes from nature; not art but art history (or art theory) is his subject. Tansey deals in theories and notions, presenting them with the sort of sharp irony found in editorial-page cartoons. At the major Tansey exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts last year, the most striking and I think best example of the painter’s work on display allegorizes a world historical event in the annals of modern art.Read more »

Who’s Who?

A historian of American portraits tells how he determines whether a picture is authentic—and why that authenticity matters

More than any other features, our faces are what mark us as unique individuals. Superficially our faces are who we are. Together with names they identify us with the lives we have lived; they are our perpetual calling cards. Our interest in and curiosity about faces is a natural phenomenon, and if we are to feel a kinship with our national heritage, it matters that we recognize the faces of our American icons. Read more »