Fall 2004

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

Noble,Nancy J.

09/13/2004 - 12/18/2004
Tuesday 06:00 PM - 09:00 PM

Davison Art Center 300

This course investigates the major painters and movements in the United States in the Jacksonian and antebellum periods, with a particular focus on the dominant painting types of the period, landscape and genre painting, and how they contributed to the construction of a 19th-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 Martin Johnson Heade and John Frederick Kensett. We will examine the construction of American identity in depictions of everyday life by genre painters such as William Sydney Mount, George Caleb Bingham, 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.

In order to study the paintings in context, we will read selections of literature written in the same period, by such authors as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and James Fenimore Cooper. To study the period in the academic discourse of art history, we will read current texts, including Elizabeth Johns, AMERICAN GENRE PAINTING: THE POLITICS OF EVERYDAY LIFE; Angela Miller, THE EMPIRE OF THE EYE: LANDSCAPE REPRESENTATION AND AMERICAN CULTURAL POLITICS, 1825-1875; and Barbara Novak, NATURE AND CULTURE: AMERICAN LANDSCAPE PAINTING, 1825-1875. Additional photocopied readings will be assigned from a variety of sources, as noted above, and will be available for purchase at Minuteman Press, 512 Main Street, Middletown, (860) 347-5700.

Students will be responsible for leading a class discussion, weekly response essays, one short paper considering an original work of art which the student has studied in-person, and a research paper due at the end of the semester.

In addition to viewing slides in class, students will have several opportunities to study original works of art. Students will be asked to visit at least two area museums (from a selection including Yale University Art Gallery, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and other museums in southeastern Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and New York), and are strongly encouraged to visit more. Students have the option of taking the Wesleyan Arts Bus in early October (cost approximately $30) to visit various New York City museums.

A syllabus for this course is available at:

Nancy Noble (B.A. Wellesley College; M.A. Univeristy of Massachusetts, Amherst; Ph.D. candidate, University of Deleware) is visiting instructor of art history. Her essays on works by Eugene Benson, William Merritt Chase, William Morris Hunt, Chauncey Bradley Ives, Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow, Hiram Powers, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and Elihu Vedder appear in American Artists Abroad and Their Inspiration (New London: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 2004).


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Marianne Dozema, READING AMERICAN ART (Yale University Press), Paperback

Elizabeth Johns, AMERICAN GENRE PAINTING (Yale University Press), Paperback

Angela Miller, THE EMPIRE OF THE EYE (Cornell University Press), Paperback

Andrew Wilton, AMERICAN SUBLIME (Princeton University Press), Paperback


Register for Courses

Contact glsinquire@wesleyan.edu to submit comments or suggestions. 
Copyright Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 06459