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 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
November 7, 2016 | A decidedly different perspective on the pasture can be seen at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Pennsylvania.
Barn with Snow by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1933. San Diego Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norton S. Walbridge. © 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
While modernism was taking root in the cities of Europe, in this country urban artists from the Stieglitz circle and regionalist painters alike looked inland to the hinterlands, searching for an American style. “Rural modernism,” according to the Brandywine show, is what they created.
Drawing on techniques imported from the Continent and developed in the artistic crucibles of New York, Chicago, and Boston—but also in bucolic locales like rural Iowa and Texas—painters such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Maynard Dixon, Josephine Joy, N. C. Wyeth, and others created a body of work that was ebullient and beautiful—but often anything but idyllic.
Disaster was a common theme in the days of the D…» More
November 7, 2016 | Though the United States has been predominantly a nation of city dwellers since the 1920s, the farm still figures large in the American consciousness.
Spring Turning by Grant Wood, 1936. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, gift of Barbara B. Millhouse.
Two noteworthy exhibitions this fall examine artistic treatments of the agrarian landscape, offering a striking contrast in viewpoints. Grant Wood and the American Farm, at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, presents a lyrical survey depicting humankind in harmony with nature. It includes works from the Hudson River school’s Jasper Cropsey, impressionist Childe Hassam, and regionalists such as Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. A highlight is Wood’s 1936 oil Spring Turning—a hypnotic god’s-eye view of a rural universe untouched by twentieth-century progress. No automobiles, no machinery of any kind is seen as farmers and their teams of horses plow the land into a vast…» More
by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton» View All