Shortly after the Civil War, a resurgent America strode brashly onto the hallowed ground of the Paris salon to present its most distinguished painters in the Exposition Universelle of 1867. Their offereings included majestic Western waterfalls, magnificent portraits, sprawling landscapes--the cream of a nation ready to assert itself culturally as it had begun to do so economically. The Americans sat back to bask in anticipated applause.
But their confidence would be shattered when the luminaries of the French Academy condemned the spectacle as being unworthy of the great nation that had produced it. The rebuke provoked widespread soulsearching in America: Why was the land of Melville and Poe unable to produce paintings of comparable power? How was it to claim a place among nations producing art of real consequence?
In this magnificent historical panorama, Annie Cohen-Solal shows how American pragmatism furnished the solution: Learn from the best. The French were then the undisputed masters of painting, and so to France the Americans went in hordes, apprenticing themselves in the studios of reknowned masters--Gérôme, Cabanel, and others--or founding colonies such as the legendary one at Pont-Aven. From the seeds of their individual efforts would grow an extraordinary crop, one that included not only the great--Whistler, Cassatt, Sargent--but a legion of artists of all ranks who collectively pushed forward a bold new American enterprise. In two generations, Paris would be eclipsed, and the greatest French artists would begin coming to New York to be at the new center of everything.
Meticulously researched and presented as a captivating story, this book tells the saga of the rise of American artists as we have never had it before: a surging transatlatic ebb and flow of cultural energies, driven by innumberable fascinating individuals--painters, collectors, critics, titans of industry--some of them now famous, others forgotten. Informed throughout by the author's unique perspective as a scholar, a writer, and a cultural diplomat, Painting American offers an utterly new understanding of one of the greatest changes in cultural history.
About Annie Cohen-Solal
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Published October 16, 2001
History, Arts & Photography.