This beautifully illustrated volume reassesses narrative painting and what defined artistic “taste” during this period. The book features 55 works by 38 artists drawn from the New-York Historical Society’s newly restored and superb collection of narrative art, much of which will be new to readers. Narrative themes in 19th-century American art went beyond the rural and the domestic to include a broad range of historical, literary, and religious subject matter, all of them richly represented here.
American art at this time was dominated by powerful arguments about what constituted true art: should it be for the many or the educated few? This in turn reflected the wider debate about the development of the visual arts in a new democratic nation, including whether specifically American art forms and styles should be favoured over more traditional, academic, European traditions. Making American Taste looks at these issues through the work of both well-known artists, like Benjamin West, Asher B. Durand, and Eastman Johnson, and less familiar names such as Daniel Huntington, Henry Peters Gray, and Louis Lang. Accompanied and interpreted by three thoughtful essays, these works can now be considered in the context of the complex cultural and social history of the 19th century.
Barbara Dayer Gallati is curator emerita of American Art, Brooklyn Museum. She is the author of numerous books including John Singer Sargent: Painting Friends (2014) and Beauty's Legacy (2013).
Linda S. Ferber is senior art historian & museum director emerita at the New-York Historical Society. Her publications include The Coast & the Sea (2014).
Ella M. Foshay is an independent art historian.
Kimberly Orcutt is Andrew W. Mellon curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum.