ARTS 636
Constructing National Identity: Landscape and Genre Painting in America, 1820-1860

Nancy Noble      

Course Description
The course is an interdisciplinary, interactive seminar that considers landscape and genre painting within the framework of American culture from, roughly, the Jacksonian and antebellum periods.  We will investigate the ideological dimensions these works, and consider how they contributed to the construction of a nineteenth century American national identity.  We will explore how landscape painting relates to the rise of industrialization and the growth of the American city; the rising political tensions leading up to the Civil War; the interrelationship between art and science; the moral, spiritual, and social dimensions of American nature; the pastoral ideal and the concept of the wilderness; the myth and reality of the frontier; and the ideologies of Manifest Destiny and Jacksonian democracy.  We will explore the stylistic and ideological dimensions of landscape in the art of Thomas Cole; Hudson River School painters such as Frederic Edwin Church and Asher B. Durand; and Luminist painters such as John Frederick Kensett and Martin Johnson Heade.  We will examine the construction of American identity in depictions of everyday life by genre painters such as William Sidney Mount, Richard Woodville, and Lilly Martin Spencer.  We will consider how these artists' images of a variety of Americans inform our ideas about gender, race, class, and regional "types" of the pre-Civil War period.   

Readings are drawn from key literary texts of the period (including work by William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and James Fenimore Cooper) and methodologically diverse art historical studies (such as articles by Barbara Novak, Angela Miller, and David Lubin).     

Other issues for discussion will include:  American reinterpretations of European art; the rise of tourism and its relationship to landscape painting; patronage; immigration and modes of enculturation; reformism; and the degree to which landscape and genre artists expressed a shared ideology.    

Course Requirements
Participants in the class are expected to:  attend class meetings; complete the readings as they are assigned; contribute to discussions, lead one class discussion on assigned readings; complete reading response essays; visit two area museums; complete one short paper based on viewing a work of art in person; submit a paper at the end of the semester based on original research.  
Assigned Readings
Required texts (available for purchase at Broad Street Books, 45 Broad Street, Middletown and on reserve at the art library):   

            Andrew Wilton and Tim Barringer, American Sublime:  Landscape Painting in the             United States, 1820-1860 (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2002). [Wilton on syllabus] 

            Elizabeth Johns, American Genre Painting:  The Politics of Everyday Life (New   Haven:  Yale University Press, 1991).  [Johns on syllabus] 

            A course packet of photocopied readings is available for purchase at Minuteman Press (512 Main Street, Middletown, 860-347-5700).  These readings are also available on reserve at the Art Library.  [course packet on syllabus] 

We will be reading several articles in Marianne Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy, eds, Reading American Art (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1998).  Copies of the articles are in the course packet.  However, should you prefer to purchase the book (which I strongly recommend to those with a serious interest in American art), Broad Street Books has copies of the book on sale.   

If you have not taken a class in American art history before, I especially recommend you become acquainted with the survey of American painting, especially from about 1790 to 1875.  Recommended texts are (all on reserve at the Art Library): 

            Matthew Baigell, A Concise History of American Painting and Sculpture (any edition). 

            Wayne Craven, American Art:  History and Culture (any edition). 

            Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth-Century:  Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (any edition).   

            Sharon F. Patton, African-American Art (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1998). 


•  Visit at least two area museums to study original works of art (one option is to
    take the Wesleyan Arts Bus to New York on Saturday, October 2, cost is  
    $34.00; a list of other possible museums to visit will be distributed in class)  

•  Reading response essays due weekly

            •  Lead a class discussion session

            •  Short formal analysis paper due on October 26

            •  Research paper due on December 14

Grading Policy

Reading response essays       30%

Short formal analysis paper    10%

Research paper                      40%

Class participation*                20% 

*includes participation in general class discussion and leading one class discussion 

A late paper will be graded down one increment for each day (not class session) it is late. 

No late work will be accepted after Tuesday, December 14.   

Course Calendar
September 14 Introduction; major issues and approaches; suggested research topics
September 21

Origins and development of American art to 1820; The Grand Manner                        Tutorials:  Formal Analysis of a Work of Art; Researching Tools 


Wayne Craven, American Art:  History and Culture (New York:  Abrams, 1994), pp. 135-36, 146-52, 157-59, 198-99 [course packet; book is on  reserve]  

Wilton, pp. 11-18 

Margaret Fuller Ossoli, "A Record of Impressions of Mr. Allston's Pictures" (1839) [course packet; John McCoubrey, America Art 1700-1960 on reserve] 

Recommended reading:  acquaint yourself with American art generally from about 1790-1830; see list of recommended survey texts above [all are on reserve]    

September 28

The Early Career of Thomas Cole


Wilton, pp. 18-24, 39-40, 73-76, 91-94, 253-54  

Poems by William Cullen Bryant:  "Thanatopsis" (1817), "Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood" (1817), "A Forest Hymn" (1825), "To Cole, The Painter, Departing for Europe" (1829) [course packet] 

Selections from James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers (1823) [course packet] 

Thomas Cole, "Essay on American Scenery" (1835) [course packet; John McCoubrey, America Art 1700-1960 on reserve] 

Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture:  American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 3-17, 157-165, 275-76, 290-91 [course packet; book is on reserve]

October 5

The Later Career of Thomas Cole; The New York Art Scene 


Wilton, pp. 77-79, 95-109 

Angela Miller, "Thomas Cole and Jacksonian America:  The Course of Empire as Political Allegory," Prospects 14 (1989):  65-92  [course packet]   

Rebecca Bedell, "Thomas Cole and the Fashionable Science," from The Anatomy of Nature:  Geology & American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875 (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 17-45, 155-59 [course packet] 

Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Ambitious Guest" (1835) [course packet]

October 12

Asher B. Durand and the Hudson River School


Wilton, pp. 40-48, 68-72, 82-85, 88-90, 110-13, 137-43, 252-53, 256-57

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature" (1836) [course packet] 

Asher B. Durand, "Letters on Landscape Painting" (1855) [course packet] 

Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle" (1818) [course packet] 

Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture:  American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875, pp. 166-184, 291-92 [course packet; book is on reserve]  

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, "Robert Scott Duncanson," from Sharing Traditions:  Five Black Artists in Nineteenth Century America                                               (Washington, D.C.:  Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985), pp. 51-68 [course packet; book is on reserve]

October 26 **Formal Analysis Paper Due in Class**

Frederic Edwin Church


Wilton, pp. 24-25, 28-31, 54-57, 122-31, 150-55, 218-27, 258-59  

Herman Melville, "The Tartarus of Maids" (1855) [course packet] 

Browse images in Franklin Kelly et al, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, D.C.:  Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989) [on reserve]. 

Christopher Kent Wilson, "The Landscape of Democracy:  Frederic Church's West Rock, New Haven," American Art Journal 18 (1986):  20-39 [course packet]   

Kevin Avery, "The Heart of the Andes Exhibited:  Frederic E. Church's Window on the Equatorial World," American Art Journal 18 (1986): 52-72 [course packet].

November 2 **Research Topic Due**

"Luminism" -- Kensett, Heade, Lane, and Gifford


Wilton:  pp. 25-28, 80-81, 116-21, 134-36, 144-49, 188-215, 254-56, 257-58 

Barbara Novak, "On Defining Luminism," from John Wilmerding et al, American Light:  The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 23-29 [course packet; book is on reserve] 

Browse images John Wilmerding et al, American Light:  The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875 (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1989) [on reserve] 

Sarah Cash, "Martin Johnson Heade's Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay," Magazine Antiques 145 (March 1994):  422-31 [course packet] 

Angela L. Miller, "Space, Cultural Authority, and the Imagery of Feminine Influence," from Katherine Martinez and Kenneth L. Ames, eds., The Material Culture of Gender, the Gender of Material Culture (Wintherthur, DE:  Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1997), pp. 311-35 [course packet; book is on reserve]

November 9

Development of Genre Painting before Mount

William Sidney Mount


Johns, pp.-59, 100-36  

William T. Oedel and Todd S. Gernes, "The Painter's Triumph:  William Sidney Mount and the Formation of a Middle-Class Art," in Marianne  Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy, eds., Reading American Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 128-49 [course packet; book is on reserve]

November 16 **Annotated Bibliography Due**

Discussion of research paper topics and bibliographies

Other American "Types":  Women and Urban Characters in Antebellum Genre Painting                       

Johns, pp. 137-203  

Excerpts from Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Good Temper in the Housekeeper," "Habits of System and Order," and "The Management of Young Children," in The American Woman's Home (1869) [course packet] 

David Lubin, "Lilly Martin Spencer's Domestic Genre Painting in Antebellum America," from David C. Miller, ed., American Iconology (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 135-62, 320-24 [course packet; book on reserve]

November 23

George Caleb Bingham and the Development of Western Types


Johns, pp. 60-99  

Françoise Forster-Hahn, "Inventing the Myth of the American Frontier: Bingham's Images of Fur Traders and Flatboatmen as Symbols of the Expanding Nation," from Thomas W. Gaehtgens and Heinz Ickstadt, eds., American Icons:  Transatlantic Perspectives on Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century American Art (Santa Monica:  Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1992), pp. 118-45 [course packet; book is on reserve]

November 30

The Frontier:  Myth and Reality


Wilton, pp. 31-37, 57-65, 230-51, 259-61 

George Catlin, letter from the mouth of the Yellowstone River (1832) [course packet; John McCoubrey, America Art 1700-1960 on reserve] 

Kathryn S. Hight, "'Doomed to Perish':  George Catlin's Depictions of the Mandan," from Marianne Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy, eds., Reading American Art (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 150-62 [course packet; book is on reserve] 

Skim text and images in William H. Truettner et al, The West as America:                     Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920 (Washington, D.C.:                Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991). [on reserve] 

Skim text and images in Brian Dippie et al, George Catlin and His Indian Gallery (Washington, D.C.:  Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2002). [on reserve]

December 7 Class Summary

Discussion of Research Findings

December 14 **Research Paper Due**