The American Colonies, 1730-1776
The eastern seaboard from New England to Georgia, still largely agricultural, was part of the British colonial empire. The colonies' growing prosperity was driven by the thriving mercantile economy of northern port cities and the abundant production of Southern plantations.
Pieter Vanderlyn, Portrait of Catherine Ogden, ca. 1730, Oil on canvas, Purchase 1976 The Members’ Fund, Charles W. Engelhard Bequest Fund, Anonymous Fund 76.181
John Singleton Copley, Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Scott, ca. 1765, Oil on canvas, Purchase 1948 The Members’ Fund 48.508
John Wollaston, Family Group, ca. 1750, Oil on canvas, Purchase 1956 The Members’ Fund 56.231
The Young Republic, 1790-1860
In the period between the Revolution and the Civil War, settlers moved westward, transforming the landscape from a wilderness into a patchwork of farms, towns and cities. As pioneers pushed the young nation's boundaries to the Pacific, the government uprooted Native peoples, relocating them to reservations west of the Mississippi.
The North and South moved apart economically and socially as the North industrialized and the South remained an agrarian economy whose prosperity depended on the increasingly controversial system of slavery.
Artists, intent on inventing a visual identity for the young republic, chose themes that reflected the prevailing view that the founding of this nation was part of God's special design. Leaders were depicted as heroic and the country were portrayed as a lush wilderness or a peacefullanddotted with farms.
Images (top to bottom):
John Ehninger, Yankee Peddler, 1858, Oil on canvas, Gift of William F. Laporte, 1925 25.876
Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave, 1847, Marble, Gift of of Franklin Murphy, Jr., 1926 26.2755
Raphaelle Peale, Still-Life Watermelon and Fruit, 1822, Oil on canvas, Purchase 1960 The Members’ Fund 60.581
Romantic Portraits for Eastern Cities, 1790-1860
During the first third of the century, Americans who purchased art were primarily interested in portraits. The majority of commissions came from successful manufacturers and merchants who were amassing fortunes in the booming northeastern port cities. As a result, the best artists settled, exhibited and studied in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
Artists tended to play up the psychology of their sitters, rather than their wealth and station. They were influenced by European Romanticism, a movement that exalted powerful emotions and revered Roman Ladyindividual genius.
Expressive faces and dramatic lighting further underscore the sitters' intensity.