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


For me, one of the most exciting things about American painting is its glorious variety. From the stiff, but remarkably effective, portraits of the Colonial era through the Romantic landscape painters of the 19th century and into the cool modernist style of 20th century artists like Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper, American paintings are a remarkable narrative of the evolution of the nation's character.

For us at Butterfields, and for most collectors, the term "American art" represents a tradition of landscape and portrait painting developed in this country. The international style of Modern art, though replete with some of the brightest starts of 20th century American art, is usually considered separately.

American art, at least in the European tradition, began shortly after the arrival of the first Colonists. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, prosperous settlers commissioned portraits to mark the good fortune they had found in the New World. These paintings, designed for the hallways of town houses in Boston and country manors in Virginia, usually depicted their subjects posed stiffly in their most formal attire. While often flat and rigid, these paintings offer a fascinating glimpse at the earliest American families. And the later Colonial painters, such as John Singleton Copley, were able to marry the requirements of formal portraiture with remarkable psychological insight into his subjects.

The birth of the nation launched a new form of American painting as artists sought to record the experience of Independence and the men and women who fought for it. Think of famous portraits, like those of George Washington done by Gilbert Stuart and Charles Wilson Peale. While these were mostly European-style works, they show artists trying to convey the excitement, and the challenge, of a new country embarking on the untried path of democracy.

Next: An American Style


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