American art is just as firmly indebted to immigrants as every other sector.
Over 20% of American artists from the 19th century are immigrants, and that does not even take into account those who are first generation. These are the men and women who crossed seas and travelled far from home and are remembered as being a distinctly American artist.
That number comes from the rather exhaustive Wikipedia list of American artists. Over 500 names are included just between the years of 1800 and 1899 as “historically recognized American fine artists known for the creation of artworks that are primarily visual in nature, including traditional media such as painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking.” And while Wikipedia may not be the definitive source for who is considered a historically significant artist (there do seem to be an unusually high number of Hawaiian landscape artists, although the islands may just be particularly inspiring and I do not have a firm enough grasp of art history to question it) these artists are undoubtedly American.
They have painted the most iconic American scenes, influenced major artistic movements in this country, and inspired global artists. Of course, they also captured the vistas, cities, and people of this country in a way that contributes to our own history in a priceless way. Or as Wikipedia would put it, they are historically significant American artists.
A selection of the work from the immigrant American artists born between 1800-1850
click the images to view them full screen
Perhaps one of the most iconic (and most parodied) American paintings, this 1851 oil painting depicted General George Washington’s historic crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, inspiring renewed hope for the colonial rebels during the Revolutionary War.
An incredibly high resolution image is available through the Met's website.
He was also commissioned by the U.S. Congress to decorate the Capitol building. His enormous 20 by 30 foot mural Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way depicts the spirit of Manifest Destiny in a grand pilgrimage to the western frontier. It still adorns the Capitol; while it’s equally large study is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Though you may recognize the painting from the opening screen of the computer game Oregon Trail.
This 1886 painting depicts the 21-gun salute and surrounding pomp of the unveiling ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, which Moran attended. But it was not his first painting of the iconic statue. Moran met Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor, in early 1886 and fell in love with Bartholdi’s idea to create a monumental sculpture for the New York Harbor. By 1876 he had completed The Commerce of Nations Paying Homage to Liberty – a painting of the grand idea that was used at fundraising events for the lady’s completion.
But Moran considered his most important work the 13 paintings depicting the Marine history of the United States – from Leif Erickson landing in the New World through Our Victory in the Late Spanish-American War, completed only two years before his death. The were first exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair and now all 13 paintings are given a place of honor at United States Naval Academy Museum. When they soon exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum in NY an art critic wrote that “The exhibition of these pictures of scenes connected with the history of the United States is not only an artistic but an educational event.”
Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia (in the Harbor of Tripoli, February 16, 1894) is unique as the only upright painting in the series.
“Because he was the first American artist to picture the wilderness with the passion of a poet and to capture its spaciousness and grandeur with technical skill, Cole exerted a strong influence on the new direction landscape painting was to take.” - Nora Panzer American Landscapes: 19th-Century Selections
Thomas Cole was greatly inspired by the Hudson Valley, and his monumental and poetic odes the landscape were not only impressive and lauded, but also gave birth to an entire American school of painting known as the Hudson River School that flourished throughout the mid-century – depicting the American wilderness as both pastoral and rugged with an idealistic and detailed brush. Many of his paintings are available to view in detail with the Met's high resolution images.
He also painted massive allegorical series such as The Course of Empire, which depicts the same landscape over generations and was inspired by his increasing concerns of the industrialization of the beloved Catskills. Another series, the more personal Voyage of Life depicts four stages of life (childhood, youth, manhood, old age) as a voyager on a boat in a river. This was also remarkably well received for its pious tones as The United States was experiencing The Second Great Awakening and increased religious spirit.
Click on the image below to view full screen. Clicking again will bring you to the next in the series.
The Voyage Of Life - Childhood by Thomas Cole
The 1893 painting Breaking Home Ties was not only voted the most popular painting at the Chicago World’s Fair, but it captured a personal and deeply American moment as small farms declined and young men left to seek their fortune in cities or the new frontier. Hovenden modeled each of the subjects in the painting on a deeply personal model; family and friends and even his own dog are represented.
He was one of the rare American painters, who, although studying the technique of his Art for six years in Paris came home and painted real American subjects, in his own original manner. He was not afraid of telling a story that appealed to the human heart of every spectator, and yet his paintings were none the less artistic for all that. –from the National Academy biography
He is also famous for his depictions of African Americans, perhaps influenced by his wife Helen Corson, who came from a family of abolitionists whose home was a stop on the underground railroad. His studio on her family property was even located in “abolition hall”, the barn known for the anti-slavery meetings. On commission, Hovenden painted the last moments of John Brown, the controversial abolitionist sentenced to death for treason, murder, and conspiracy, in a sympathetic light.
Also, He was killed at 54 by a railroad locomotive and newspapers reported his death was due to heroic (but failed) attempts to save a ten-year-old girl.