"American Pictures for American Homes" from Decor Jan, 1930

Marc Lizer

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Jun 28, 1999
North Hollywood, CA


IN starting to talk about American painting I want to say at the very beginning that this is not to be a discussion of the work of all of our artists, or a treatise on art from the high and lofty standpoint of the profession, but just a few words concerning those *men who have-and are painting pictures which the uninitiated* *would like in *their *homes. *American painters have *said bitter things about this country, accusing *her of not wanting to buy their pictures-have dubbed Americans soulless clods; when, unfortunately, the trouble lay with the artists themselves-their ability not being such as to enable them to paint great pictures, appealing to the majority.

It may be true that the masses have *fancies of a none too lofty variety-passing *enthusiasms for this or that inferior painting. Yet, when a picture has held its popularity steadily in the hearts of the people over a period of years, it is sure to be a surpassing work of art-for *the majority feel, if they do not *know.

The very fact that all over the United States a new interest in our art is awakening, proves that our artists are coming along in their work. That instead of producing pictures, which somehow just miss, they are *giving us canvases of rare beauty. *And *those *of us who are spending our lives among artistic things feel a glow of pride and joy at this change: We long to lend a helping hand--to feel that we too are taking part in the de*velopment of **America**'s artistic powers.*

A *very real *service can be done by pointing out to people in general how many of their favorite pictures have really been painted by men of their own nation. Why, Hitchcock's "Flower Girl" is sometimes denied to this country. Even at the very beginning, in the dark age of American painting, (think of itonly about one hundred and fifty years ago), there were some artists whose brush was driven by an inspired genius. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), for in*stance, gave us portraits of George and *Martha Washington, and of other Colo*nial dignitaries. *He was a bluff old soul and he injected into his likeness a certain timeless quality, which is the only guarantee that a portrait has of survival.

For a portrait must not only be a good likeness of the sitter, but to that should be added some mystic touch which allies the face looking at one from the canvas with all the world.

Not only, for instance, did Stuart paint General Washington-he painted many of the old- generals. And this is all the more remarkable when we realize that one hundred and fifty years ago this country of ours was a poor place for artists. Life was still too hard and wealth too slow in coming to admit of any indulgence in luxuries, even if artists had not been looked upon as im/moral wasters./

That, however, was the worst feature of it, our Puritan forefathers did not approve of art--they had escaped from England and its shocking ways and had no intention of developing anything in their midst which faintly savored of the profligate ways of royalty.

Therefore, if the contemporaries of Gilbert Stuart do not measure very high artistically, we need not feel cast down, but can marvel that in such an unsympathetic atmosphere evc-n one genius forced his way to notice.

West, Copley and Peale all helped the cause along, but the less said about them the better. In fact, it is necessary to take a *mighty step after we have mentioned *Stuart-a step cf nearly a hundred years-before we come to another artist great enough to become a universal favorite: I am thinking of Inness. The space of those intervening years was filled by workers who burned with zeal and produced some terrible things. *Bless *them! They thought themselves interested in nature, and copied prints brought over from Europe. When this no longer satisfied, they went to Duesseldorf and learned a lot of cramping nonsense--although it must be said that their German teachers did insist on their looking at Nature when they painted her.

Back they came to America and, enchanted by her scenic *wonders, began presenting the unwilling public* *with vast canvases covered with moun*tain ranges and cataracts bewildering to the eye. A name has been given them, "The Grand Scenery painters," and, having mentioned it, we may leave them to their long unbroken rest: Church, Moran, Bierstadt-pax vobiscum.

Yet, it is only fair to say that during a11 this time a *certain dissatisfaction and *restlessness were in the *air, a healthy sign indeed. Men were not pleased with results obtained and were ever experimenting.*

Practically contemporary with the Grand Scenery Painters, the Hudson River School was unfolding. Its early accomplishments were almost as trying as those of the panorama painters, but to its patient earnestness America owes her Inness. The "Hudson River School" is really a very elastic classification. From the time that our artists turned to nature for inspiration the Catskills and the banks of the Hudson drew them, so that various groups of men had formed the habit of living and painting along the Hudson for certain periods of the year. All who did so belong to this school.

No one can accuse Americans of not buying Inness' pictures. His paintings are valued at large sums and the prints reproducing them give pleasure to thousands. "The Home of the Heron," for instance, can we ever forget it!

Really, with Inness begins our true artistic awakening, for contemporary with him were Homer Martin and Alexander Wyant. In time "The Harp of the Winds," by Martin, will undoubtedly oc cupy the ~ame po

William Morris Hunt gave us his "Flight of Night" and his "Boys Bathing," George Fuller painted blended phantasies. There was Winslow Homer and his stirring marines! Yes, they come thick and fast-Whistler arrives, one of our greatest. What a pity that France owns the "Portrait of His Mother." And Duveneck with his "Whistling Boy."

We have now progressed to the last years of eighteen hundred and are discussing the men who are known as the masters of the old school. Impressionism has not as yet gripped the art world, and this group of painters who stand on the threshold of the revolution attained their quiet greatness by the old means of sound drawing and subdued color effects.

There is John White Alexander, with his "Pot of Basil" and "Aurora Leigh." Then, even though Edwin Howland Blashfield did not always paint pictures which are pleasing in close quarters, the "Angel of the Flaming Sword" will always have worshipers.

Abbott Handerson Thayer's Virgins an,l George DeFowe.~t Brush's modern JSa(;onnas po=;e- a certain charm which may well be termed greatness,

-Next, what of our Georye Hitchcock! From ocean to ocean we find reproductions of his "Dutch Flower Girl."

How many painters we must pass by -good painters, worthy men who each contributed their modicum of genius toward the advancement of American art. Yet we needs must hurry on; for, after all, the pictures that one cannot do without, are the living part of art.

Abbey painted such pictures, and Howard Pyle. Emil Carlsen has given us one of the most vital religious canvases of modern times-"Oh, Ye of Little Faith," and his still life will always appeal to the lovers of such studies. Truly, we may feel proud of these gentlemen of the old school whose work has become so dear to us!

And then there is the next movement. in American art-Impressionism. Coming to us from France, a flying spark, it kindled the fires of our passive genius, and from that time on the work of our artists has been astounding. Their pictures have found places in European galleries, in short, America has taken her rightful place in the world of the arts.