Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Great American Painting

Please vote for your favorite Great American Painting in Blackfish Art's poll in (see right-hand column). If you have suggestions for other Great American Paintings please leave a comment below with your suggestion. Criteria: both the artist and the subject must be American.
George Washington (Athenaeum) by Gilbert Stuart, 1796, Oil on Canvas

One of the first great American painters was Gilbert Stuart. He is perhaps best known for his portrait of the first American president, George Washington. His portrait of Washington even has its own website: George Washington: A National Treasure.  I encourage you to visit that engaging site. The above version of the portrait was painted after the original and was intended, along with a matching portrait of Martha Washington, for the Washington's home in Mount Vernon. These later paintings were never finished. Said Abigail Adams, who waited 16 years for delivery of her finished portrait by Stuart, "Genius is always eccentrick, I think. There is no knowing how to take hold of this man, nor by what means to prevail upon him to fulfill his engagements."

Is this the Great American Painting? Below, Georgia O'Keeffe recalls musing about the idea of the Great American Painting while painting a cow's skull, from her 1976 autobiographical book Georgia O'Keeffe.

Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1931, Oil on Canvas

"As I was working I thought of the city men I had been seeing in the East. They talked so much about writing the Great American Novel - the Great American Play - the Great American Poetry. I am not sure that they aspired to the Great American Painting. Cezanne was so much in the air that I think the Great American Painting didn't even seem a possible dream. I knew the middle of the country - knew quite a bit of the South - I knew the cattle country - and I knew that our country was lush and rich. I had driven across the country many times. I was quite excited over our country and I knew that at that time almost any one of those great minds would have been living in Europe if it had been possible for them. They didn't even want to live in New York - how was the Great American Thing going to happen? So as I painted along on my cow's skull on blue I thought to myself, "I'll make it an American painting. They will not think it great with the red stripes down the sides - Red, White and Blue - but they will notice it."
Georgia O'Keeffe from Georgia O'Keeffe, Viking Press, 1976

Flag by Jasper Johns, 1954-55, Encaustic, oil and collage on fabric and wood

Inspired by a dream of the American flag, Jasper Johns painted Flag. It turned out to be his breakthrough painting. Johns painted "Things the mind already knows" managing to bridge pop art, minimalism and the conceptual art of the middle 20th century.

 American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930, Oil on beaverboard
Grant Wood's American Gothic is one of the most well loved, and arguably the most often parodied American painting. Wood epitomized American regionalism. He got his dentist to pose for this painting after visiting his dentist and noticing the man's large, beautiful hands. The woman is Wood's sister. When the painting began to receive attention she apparently objected to being pictured as a the wife with a much older man. She spread the idea that this was a farmer and his daughter, not his wife. 

 An American Portrait by Fritz Scholder, (date not found) Oil on Canvas
Fritz Scholder was perhaps the most influential contemporary native American painter of the 20th century. He was the first to reject romanticized cliches and explore native themes in a contemporary self-expressive style. Said Scholder, "In today's world, love, art and magic are greatly needed." 

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