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American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Rich History of American Art

    AMERICAN STORIES: PAINTINGS OF EVERYDAY LIFE, 1765 - 1915 is a catalogue that accompanied a sensitive and very popular exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum in Los Angeles, California. For those who were unable to see this well-curated exhibition this catalogue is a rich portfolio of the treasures shared. Many of the works in this show are well known to the public from the exposure they have received in art history books, but the joy of seeing these familiar paintings grouped with images not previously known adds greatly to the appreciation of the quality of art that this country has and continues to produce.

    There are four writers who each take a period of history and discuss and illustrate it with works in the exhibition. Carrie Rebora Barrett's contribution is 'Inventing American Stories, 1765 - 1830, emphasizing the works of John Singleton Copley from his famous portraits to his created allegories such as 'Watson and the Shark' and Charles Willson Peale's impressive 'The Exhumation of the Mastadon'. The next section is written by Bruce Robertson - 'Stories for the Public, 1830 - 1860' - and deals with Yankee idealism and the joys of the works of George Caleb Bingham, William Sidney Mount, Christian Friedich Mayr among others who depicted life in America from all stances. 'Stories of War and Reconciliation, 1860 - 1877' by Margaret C. Conrads features paintings of wars here and abroad, conflicts with the American Indian, the wagon trains West movement, and the wondrous paintings of Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins and William Merritt Chase.

    The final chapter of this well illustrate book is titled 'Cosmopolitan and Candid Stories, 1877 - 1915, and it is this section that many art lovers will treasure most. The works of Mary Cassatt, many more by Thomas Eakins, the sea images of Homer, and works by Thomas Anshutz, John George Brown, Frederic Remington, George Bellows and a contingency of little known but superb painters of the American life.

    The book is well designed and constructed and scrupulously documented. This is a fine example of how a museum catalogue can become a gold standard of art history books. It is a fine achievement.

    Grady Harp

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