Herter Brothers

A PAIR OF GERMAN-BORN CRAFTSMEN BEGAN BY MAKING EXUBERANT FURNITURE AND WENT ON TO SHOW A NEWLY RICH GENERATION HOW TO LIVE

America. the industrial age. Machines, steam, and iron. The picture of progress. But also a nation in mourning. Mourning its Civil War dead, mourning its loss of innocence, and deeply ambivalent about the forces of change. Onto this stage stepped two dapper German cosmopolites—Gustave and Christian Herter—impresarios of interior design and cabinetmakers to the stars.Read more »

Mr. Wadsworth’s Museum

For 150 years a crenelated Gothic Revival castle in Connecticut has housed an art collection that was astonishing for its time—and ours

We tend to identify the first American public display of art with the post-Civil War surge of wealth called the Gilded Age. Conventional wisdom also assumes that our first art museums were born in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—all of which were eager to assert their cultural hegemony. Read more »

Hardships

An Airman’s Sketchbook

On April 6,1942, I joined the 40th Squadron of the newly formed 35th Fighter Group then being assembled at Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia, a suburb of Sydney. The 40th was flying training missions in P-39s, for which I for one was duly thankful, since I had only four hours of flying time in the plane we were expecting to fly in combat and I had never fired the guns. Read more »

Eakins In Light And Shadow

The man who may be America’s greatest artist liked to fend off the curious with the statement “My life is all in my works. ” He was right, but the works and the life take on new poignance with the release and exhibition of a once-private collection of his letters, photographs, and sketchbooks.

Thomas Eakins is now recognized as one of the greatest American painters, but in his own era his reputation was uncertain. He had only a single one-man show during his lifetime, and despite memorial exhibitions in New York and Philadelphia after his death in 1916 and his widow’s substantial gift of paintings to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1929, Eakins remained relatively obscure until Lloyd Goodrich published a ground-breaking monograph on him in 1933.Read more »

Webster’s Unalloyed

H. T. Webster’s cartoons offer a warm, canny, and utterly accurate view of an era of everyday middle-class life

H. T. Webster was not a great artist. Once he had established a style, it hardly changed in more than forty years of drawing. Indeed, in mid-career he lost the use of his right hand due to acute arthritis, but in a few months he was drawing with his left, and his later work is quite indistinguishable from his earlier. Moreover, Webster’s style was highly reminiscent of Clare Briggs, the cartoonist a generation older who invented the comic strip. Read more »

Pride Of The Prairie

At the dawn of this century a new form of residential architecture rose from the American heartland, ruled by the total integration of space, site, and structure

After dinner Frank Lloyd Wright would sometimes raise a wineglass, watch the yellow candlelight refracted through the red liquid and crystal, and, quoting the Chinese philosopher Lao-tze, remark that the reality of the vessel lay in the void within, “the place of greatest peace.” Wright was perhaps America’s last great architect to conceive of his work as a search for truth. And for Wright, truth was found not in the physical form of a building but in what it contained.Read more »

A Black American In The Paris Salon

In an age when the best black artists were lucky to exhibit their work at state fairs, Henry Ossawa Tanner was accepted by the most selective jury in France

Dr. Philip Bellefleur had been headmaster of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf for about three years when he found the painting in 1970. He and a housekeeper had opened the door to a large storage closet, one that hadn’t been opened in five years, perhaps more. Inside they saw scores of dusty boxes and a half-dozen paintings stacked against the wall. After a quick look Bellefleur concluded that maybe two of the six pictures were valuable—one because it was so large, nine by twelve feet, and the other because it gave him goose bumps. Read more »

Prescott’s War

A civilian adventurer gave us the best artist’s record of America in Vietnam.

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The Powder Maker’s Garden

When Pierre S. du Pont bought the deteriorated Longwood Gardens in 1906, he thought that owning property was a sign of mental derangement. Still, he worked hard to create a stupendous fantasy garden, a place, he said, “where I can entertain my friends.”

As I walked down a side path at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on a bright, sunny day in June, two quite distinct sights converged just in front of me. One was a middle-aged foursome of fellow visitors, all clad in the near-mandatory style of the vacationing 1980s American: immaculate pastel sports clothes and bulbous white sneakers. The other sight was a spectacular tree, one whose branches, instead of ascending toward the heavens, droop mournfully down to the ground—what garden people call a weeping form.Read more »

Lincoln From Life

Last year two scholars working separately uncovered a pair of previously unknown portraits of Abraham Lincoln. One of them—which seems to put us in the very presence of the man—turned out to be the first ever painted.

Until recently historians believed that Abraham Lincoln was not painted before 1860, the year artists hurried to Springfield to produce likenesses of the presidential candidate. But in the summer of 1988 a lost portrait of Abraham Lincoln turned up on a farm in his home state of Illinois. Painted in 1856 by the itinerant artist Philip O. Jenkins, the newly discovered canvas captures the face of Lincoln the lawyer, political leader, and prominent citizen.Read more »