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Posted July 10, 2010
Debra N. Mancoff, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago and a Scholar in Residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago, has created a very well prepared introduction to American art, one so fine that it should be in the libraries of schools and homes alike. Rarely has an overview about a subject on art been so completely considered as this inexpensive guide to the history of art unique to America been so readable and so full of facts and dates AND has supplied ample illustrations to allow the reader to have a solid footing on the many artists important to our history.
Mancoff begins her book in the year 1691 with a self portrait by Thomas Smith and progresses to the present with the art of Kara Walker. While she is unable in the scope of this book to cover all American artists she does select artists from different time frames that speak not only to the sociopolitical periods of development in the USA but also follows the international art periods as demonstrated by American artists. Included in this book are such divers talents as George Caitlin, George Inness, Whistler, Homer, Eakins, Cassatt, Sargent, O'Keefe, Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Cornell, de Kooning, Paul Cadmus, Louise Bourgeois, Diebenkoen, Warhol, Close, Basquiat, Matthew Barney, Claes Oldenburg, Rauschenberg - fifty artists in all. Each artist is presented with a short comment about his/her place in the art scheme, followed by a fine brief biography, a time line of the important events of the life and career, and accompanied by a photograph of the artist and at least one example of the work produced by that artist.
While there are many joys to be hared in this book, one of particular note is the ample space devoted to painter Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859 - 1937), the first African American painter to achieve international acclaim: his paintings are extraordinarily beautiful and not widely known to most readers. But that is part of the joy of Debra N. Mancoff's writing: she understands her subject and projects an excitement about each of the artists for whom she pauses to share with her reader. This is a very fine book, one that everyone interested in art and especially American art should own.