Signs of the Artist: Signatures and Self-Expression in American Paintings

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Signatures are unique and often reveal something of our individual personalities. In this intriguing book, John Wilmerding-an eminent historian of American art-explores the unconventional use of signatures in paintings. The author focuses on American artists who have not simply signed their works on a corner of the canvas but have intentionally placed their signatures within the pictorial space of the painting. A painter's name or initials might, for instance, appear as an illusion on a wall or floor, on an object within an interior, or on some form in a landscape. Wilmerding examines such signatures in works by twenty-seven artists from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, including John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, and Richard Estes. After providing an overview of signatures in European art, Wilmer-ding looks closely at American painting. He argues that by placing a signature within a painting the artist may be making an explicit association with the setting or situation depicted. He demonstrates that such signatures or inscriptions can be viewed as fragments of autobiography or as concentrated glimpses of self-representation. Beautifully designed and handsomely illustrated, this book brings into focus the myriad and complex meanings of artists' signatures and is of interest to anyone who admires and studies American art and culture.

Author Biography: John Wilmerding is Christopher Binyon Sarofim '86 Professor of American Art in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University and visiting curator in the Department of American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is the author of many books and articles on American painting and was recently reappointed by President George W. Bush to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this beautifully presented and illustrated examination of the unconventional signatures of 27 American artists, Wilmerding (American art, Princeton Univ.) argues that many artists who intentionally placed their signatures within the pictorial spaces of engravings, paintings, and drawings explicitly projected autobiographical fragments or signs of their lives into their works. While this preeminent art historian's analysis is perceptive, it is not entirely original. He strengthens his text by refusing to confine himself to either the fundamental concept of "authorship" or the unconventional signatures of only a few artists, but the result often reads like a catalog of observations and findings, many of which have been made by other scholars. The one-paragraph restatement of Wilmerding's main ideas that abruptly ends the book is inadequate, especially since he devotes an entire introductory chapter to European precedents and four to the unconventional signatures of many famous American masters from the 18th through the 20th centuries, not limited to those of John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and Andrew Wyeth. Despite its weaknesses, including the absence of a bibliography, this work belongs in most large public and academic American art book collections, because it provides a much-needed survey by a well-known, reputed expert.-Cheryl Ann Lajos, Free Lib. of Philadelphia Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300097795
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 8.42 (w) x 10.48 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

1 European Precedents 1
2 American History, Still Life, and Landscape 39
3 Genre and Later Still-Life Painting 77
4 Impressionism and Realism 117
5 Modernism 165
Notes 189
Acknowledgments 197
Index 198
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