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Fashioning Taste: Earl Shinn, Art Criticism, and National Identity in Gilded Age America

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Title: Fashioning Taste: Earl Shinn, Art Criticism, and National Identity in Gilded Age America
Author: Lenehan, Daniel Timothy
Advisor: Graham, Lisa Jane; Stadler, Gustavus T.
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 230065 bytes170982 bytes
Issue Date: 2005
Abstract: “The pictures which we are beginning to put in our churches, the statues and historical pieces which our Government and our States are beginning to command, and our more elaborate easel-pictures, are still very lacking in Americanism, in solidity and vigor,” Earl Shinn lamented in 1878.1 His criticism, that the country’s art lacked “Americanism,” reflects the identity crisis that American art experienced in the years following the Civil War. By 1870, the epic landscapes of Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School, which had stirred in the hearts of antebellum Americans a sense of pride in their country and its artistic capabilities, had lost favor among critics. However, a new ‘school,’ a distinctly American style, did not fill the void left by the Hudson River School. Instead, American art entered a phase of uncertainty and anxiety. Compared to the industrial forces unleashed during and after the war, the fine arts in the United States looked stagnant and underdeveloped, trailing behind other aspects of the blossoming national culture. A younger generation of artists and writers, many of whom studied in Europe, began to question the artistic traditions they had inherited from their predecessors. What made art ‘American?’ Was it possible for artists to thrive in a democratic society? If so, what were the conditions for a national art culture to flourish? With greater exposure to the art of Europe through travel and technology, Americans increasingly perceived their nation’s artistic productions in relation to those from across the Atlantic. The efforts to define American art and make it comparable in style and quality to the art of Europe would thus dominate the energies of artists and writers during the postwar.
Subject: Art, American -- 19th century
Subject: Art criticism -- United States -- History -- 19th century
Subject: Painting, American -- 19th century
Subject: Shinn, Earl, 1838-1886
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Lenehan, Daniel Timothy. "Fashioning Taste: Earl Shinn, Art Criticism, and National Identity in Gilded Age America". 2005. Available electronically from

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