Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy

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Saturday, February 22, 2014 - Saturday, May 17, 2014

Web banner image: Richard Caton Woodville (1825–1855), The Cavalier’s Return (detail), 1847, Oil on canvas, The New-York Historical Society, Bequest of Kate Warner

Before the origins of radio, social media, and television, our nation’s cultural and political views were depicted through art. Featuring forty-five paintings and seven sculptures created by the preeminent artists of the 19th century and on loan from the New-York Historical Society, Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy casts new light on both the history of American art and the formation its cultural ideals. Specially, well known artists such as Benjamin West (1738-1820), William Sydney Mount (1807-1868), Eastman Johnson (1824- 1906) among other artists during that time used paintings and objects as powerful mechanisms to tell stories about America and the formulation of ideas of taste. In the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Barbara Dayer Gallati, co-curator and Art Historian, explains the definition of taste from 1830s to the late 1860s as “the power of receiving pleasure from the beauties of nature and art.” Making American Taste reveals the visual styles, standards of decorum, and repertoire of knowledge that came to represent cultural refinement to 19th century Americans. The exhibition is presented in six thematic sections that illuminate a broad range from the social and political to the religious, literary, and domestic spheres prevalent during the era. From Thomas Cole’s (1801-1848) romanticized nocturnal allegorical painting based on a poem by Lord Byron to Rembrandt Peale’s (1778-1860) exquisite portrait of George Washington, our nation’s first President; viewers are invited to perceive the principles important to America during a critical period of its formation.

Looking through a contemporary lens, viewers to the exhibition will have a unique opportunity to examine a Post-colonial view of subject matter outlining the origins of our nation’s optimism and values, many of which still resonate today.

A fully illustrated 323-page publication published by D Giles Ltd in association with the New-York Historical Society will accompany the exhibition.

This exhibition was organized by the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition was organized and the accompanying volume published with generous support from Michael Reslan, the National Endowment for the Arts through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the Walter and Lucille Rubin Foundation, Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles, the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, the New York Community Trust Joanne Witty and Eugene Keilin Fund, Larry K. Clark, and the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation.

This exhibition will be on view in the Medical Facilities of America Gallery and the Temporary Exhibitions Gallery February 22 - May 17, 2014