Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting


How to Spot Real American Folk Art Paintings

European Roots

An American Style

Glossary of American Art

Things to Look For

Collecting American Art

California & Regional Paintings

About the Expert

Native American Blankets

Native American Jewelry


A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting

Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting


From its beginnings in the Atlantic colonies, the splendor of America's natural environment has been a major influence on the country's painters. One of the country's first home-grown artistic movements, the Hudson River school, emerged in the mid-1800's among painters based in New York State. These artists produced what are still regarded as some of the most beautiful examples of American art: soaring renditions of the lakes, gorges and forests of the Hudson River and nearby mountains. Light, in the hands of painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church, became a signature style of this school, with contrasts of sunlight and shadow used to convey the awesome majesty of the American wilderness.

As America moved west, its painters followed. From the wagon trains through encounters with Indians to the settlement of California, western art is an important part of the American tradition. While landscape painters reveled in the dramatic vistas the new continent offered, others like Frederic Remington concentrated on recording the lives of the settlers and America's Indian tribes. For me, these paintings provide a thrilling feeling of what life was like for those first western pioneers, setting out to establish a foothold in a vast and sometimes inhospitable new land.

American artists were certainly influenced by European art movements. American Impressionists such as Mary Cassatt turned away from the romantic realism of landscape painting, following European masters such as Edgar Degas in producing more abstract works that sought to convey the feeling and mood of the scenes and objects they observed. Another school of late 19th century American artists refined the tradition of realistic painting, with artists such as Winslow Homer conveying a dark vision of man's struggle against the titanic forces of nature.

With the advent of the 20th Century, and America's growing economic and political importance in the world, American painting blossomed in a multiplicity of schools and styles. While some artists continued to push the boundaries of abstract composition, setting the stage for the great explosion of modern art, others turned a coolly dispassionate eye back to the American landscape. The American Scene painters of the 1930s show us a country, and an art world, in the midst of dramatic change­­ ranging from Grant Wood's famous "American Gothic" portrait of a farmer and his wife to Georgia O'Keeffe's simple still-lifes and stark desert landscapes.

Next: Collecting American Art

Scot Levitt, Director of American and California Paintings, Butterfields


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