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.
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In the 19th century, American artists had to travel to France for validation; by the mid 20th century, the center of the art world had shifted to the United States. How did this happen? The French author of Sartre: A Life, Annie Cohen-Solal traces this shift in the balance of aesthetic power in the sparsely illustrated volume Painting American. Little more than a rehash of the relevant portions of French and American art history, it will not appeal to specialists looking for major new findings or novel interpretations. But it may be just the ticket for anyone curious about what the sober ranks of 19th-century American artists were learning in the heady world of Parisian art or the motives of American philanthropists who brought European art to the U.S. Particularly welcome is the unusual attention paid to developments in American art outside New York. --Cathy CurtisFrom the Back Cover:
"Annie Cohen-Solal writes with the confident authority and mesmerizing observations of a modern-day de Tocqueville. With one brilliantly argued point after another, she has connected the two worlds of American and French (European) painting, exposed the obvious differences and demonstrated their utter independence. Though it reads like a page-turning detective novel, it is destined to remain the seminal work on this subject for a very long time. Bravo." --Ken Burns
"'The imagination is not dead,' Alexis de Tocqueville observed of America more than a century ago, but it can only 'conceive what may be useful and portray what is actual.' His worry that a country without an aristocracy would be incapable of producing great art has finally been dispelled in Annie Cohen Solal's masterful study of the foundations and flowering of American painting. Her book demonstrates brilliantly that in a democracy of desire artistic beauty blossoms forth in all modes of expression." --John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History, Graduate Center, City University of New York
"A thoughtfully conceived, well-executed study of France's influence on American art--and vice versa.... Literate, accessible, and a pleasure to read: worthy to stand on a shelf next to Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years and Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New."--Kirkus Reviews
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