American Art and Visual Culture Seminar: Adrienne Baxter Bell, Marymount Manhattan College, Alan Wallach, College of William and Mary, and Jerome Tharaud, University of Chicago

Friday, April 8, 2011

1 pm to 5 pm

American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

“Messiness: Embodying Experience in Gilded Age American Landscape Painting”
Adrienne Baxter Bell, Marymount Manhattan College
My presentation explores the theme of messiness and its embodiment in the work of such American artists as George Inness, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ralph Albert Blakelock, and Abbott Handerson Thayer. Despite vehement opposition from critics and despite the established preference for meticulousness in American art, these artists exploited the expressive possibilities of the unpredictable and the inchoate. Working concurrently with William James’ findings on the fundamental role of uncertainty within human thought, and mired in the social and political upheavals of the Gilded Age, these artists devised radically new pictorial strategies to address the culture of uncertainty in which they lived.

“Rethinking ‘Luminism’: Aestheticizing Tendencies in Mid-Nineteenth Century American Landscape Painting”
Alan Wallach, College of William and Mary
For more than four decades the term “luminism” has provoked controversy within the field of American art history. In this paper, I argue that “luminism” described, if only vaguely and imprecisely, an aestheticizing trend that developed within the New York art world in the period 1840-1870, in which the rejection of mainstream Hudson River School aesthetics—the work of such artists as Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran–coincided with collectors’ growing appreciation for landscape sketches and for relatively small paintings of commonplace landscape subjects such as a lake, a beach, or a salt marsh.

“The Landscape of Art: Evangelical Space in the American Renaissance”
Jerome Tharaud, University of Chicago
This chapter uses a print strategy developed in evangelical print campaigns—a strategy I call “evangelical space”—as a framework for understanding the cultural work performed by the popular literature and paintings of the 1850s. Jasper Francis Cropsey’s 1855 painting Catskill Mountain House is read not as an example of the secularization of mid-century art, but rather as a hybrid of the sacred and the secular that is emblematic of the American Renaissance. The first illustrated edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin dramatizes the adaptation of a distinctive practice of “ethical perception” from evangelical print to best-selling fiction.

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.