On books: Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America by Catherine E. Kelly
November 18, 2016 | Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America by Catherine E. Kelly (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) 296 pp., color and b/w illus.
Review by: Elizabeth Pochoda
I am not qualified to review this book. That privilege belongs to professional historians versed in the field of early American cultural studies.
What I am qualified to do is to say something about the light Catherine Kelly’s study sheds on the project of this magazine, which began in the 1920s, I now realize, as a kind of rescue mission for what she calls the “republic of taste.” How much light? Quite a lot as it turns out.
William Hamilton, 1745–1813, and His Neice Mrs. Lyle by Benjamin West. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
But before I get to that, let me enter the remarks of two scholars who can put Kelly’s book in its proper context. First, David Shields, a wide-ranging historian of early and contemporary American material culture, summarizes Republic of Taste as an exploration of “the cultivation of taste in the United States from 1776 to 1825…a cultural history of the institutions of taste (academies, museums, instruction books, and exhibitions), a material history of visual production and reproduction, a political history of taste as a transatlantic marker of civility and humanity.”
In addition to supplying an account of various tastemakers, Kelly’s book, Shield reports, “explores how tastemakers enabled the republic to fulfill certain of its promises concerning the pursuit of happiness and the creation of a national community whose sensus communis was more than shared commercial interest.”
Mary Kelley, another eminent historian whose work on women’s history has lit up heretofore unexplored aspects of our cultural past, describes the book as “an expansive perspective on American history,” pointing to the way in which objects, images, and texts from the period are illuminated as part of the project of “teaching the embodiment of taste.” We have forgotten that once upon a time people took in words, images, and things in one uninterrupted gaze. This Kelley is alive to the other Kelly’s keen sense of the roles that commerce, status, and gentility played in “binding the elites of the republic by taste.”
Hang on to that last phrase as you consider the book. Artists and writers in eighteenth-century America, eager to craft a democratic culture distinct from that of Europe, but nonetheless notable for its refinement, elevated the idea of “taste” as an index of character and national virtue. This was not a populist project, but it reached into everyday life through the efforts of the people Catherine Kelly calls “aesthetic entrepreneurs,” who painted portraits, disseminated prints, opened museums, and produced banners and memorabilia to draw the multitudes into a patriotic festival of right-minded taste.» More
November 16, 2016 |
George Washington by John Wood Dodge, 1864. Courtesy of Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York, New York.
The ninth edition of this elegant fall showcase will fill the top three floors of the 1896 Renaissance revival style Bohemian National Hall on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with stock from seventeen top-tier art galleries. The show specializes in nineteenth- and twentieth-century work, and will feature hundreds of portraits, landscapes, still lifes, studies, and sculptures, a highlight of which will be George Washington (1864), a depiction of the Founding Father—looking rather irritated, it seems to us—by the virtuoso draftsman John Wood Dodge. Lectures by Kathleen Foster of the Center for American Art and by historian Karen Wilkin will enliven the proceedings on the first two days of the fair.
The American Art Fair · Bohemian National Hall, New York City · November 18–21 · theamericanartfair.com…» More
November 15, 2016 | Flemish banquets at the Prado
Clara Peeters was among the first and most accomplished painters to specialize in food-laden still lifes, replete with cheese and delicate biscuits, candy, and nuts as well as ornate vessels and floral bouquets. Revered especially for her playful use of light and reflection—for example her own distorted portrait shown on the polished surface of a gilded covered cup—the artist nevertheless remains a mysterious figure. Little is known about her other than that she is presumed to have been born in Antwerp and worked between about 1607 and 1621, enjoying, exceptionally for a woman of her era, high professional repute within her lifetime.
Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon by Clara Peeters, 1611. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.
The Prado now brings together twelve of the roughly thirty-five canvases that scholars agree can be attributed to Peeters for the second iteration of an exhibition shown at Antwerp’s Museum voor Schone Kunsten this past summer. Significantly, this is the first exhibition that the Prado has ever devoted to a female painter.
Featuring the four works owned by the museum, as well as loans from Antwerp and beyond, the exhibition offers the rare chance to contemplate the artist’s entire body of work. Decorative arts enthusiasts will find much to study in glassware, silver, cutlery, and other objects meticulously depicted by Peeters. Food historians can, through these canvases, learn about early forms of cheeses and other elegant nibbles. Art historians can consider her innovative and evocative compositions and complex intertwining of realism and symbolic content.
Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp, by Peeters, 1611. Museo Nacional del Prado
Above and beyond their scholarly interest, Peeters’s paintings are notable for their sheer visual delight. An English-language catalogue accompanies the show.
The Art of Clara Peeters • Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid • to February 19, 2017 • museodelprado.es
November 9, 2016 | “I cannot bear tea, coffee, or chocolate, and cannot understand how anyone can like that sort of thing. I find that tea tastes of hay and rotten straw, coffee of soot, and chocolate is too sweet and soft. What I would willingly partake of, would be a good dish of Biran brot, or beer soup.” So wrote Charlotte Elizabeth, Princess Palatine, in December 1712, clearly not a fan of the once-exotic beverages that had been introduced to Europe by the early seventeenth century and were staple drinks for all levels of society by the end of the eighteenth. The Detroit Institute of Arts has organized a delightful and illuminating exhibition that explores the myriad ramifications that coffee, tea, and chocolate had on European culture. Included are not only examples of the wide array of accoutrements they spawned—from vessels for serving and storing to teaspoons, coffee grinders (Madame de Pompadour’s is included), and furniture such as a tea table by Adam Weisweiler—but also paintings and …» More
November 8, 2016 | Brilliance and madness; poverty and fame—the life of Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847–1919) forms one of the more fascinating chapters in the history of American art.
Dream Within a Dream by Ralph Albert Blakelock. Questroyal Fine Art LLC, New York.
His early work centered on evocative scenes of the West in the manner of the Hudson River school, drawn from his solitary travels among native tribes. Blakelock later developed a singular expressive style marked by the thick brushwork and scuffed surfaces with which he rendered moody, near-hallucinatory moonlit landscapes.
All his working life Blakelock struggled for recognition. Desperate to feed his large family and increasingly delusional, he finally succumbed to schizophrenia and was committed to an asylum in 1899. While there, Blakelock at last achieved great renown—yet even so, he was victimized by charlatans in his final years. Questroyal Fine Art will tell Blakelock’s story in a selling exhibition of 125 of his pa…» More
by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton» View All