American RenaissanceWhen someone mentions "the" Renaissance, instantly we think of Italy, 1480-1520, and the likes of Leonardo, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and a seemingly endless list (to art history students) of other lesser-knowns. What most are not aware of is that this country had a Renaissance as well, usually thought of as the period from about 1870 to 1910. Though not as well known as its Italian forebearer, our Renaissance was not without some pretty interesting characters and rather impressive (if somewhat dated) works of art in a classical style not unlike the "other" Renaissance.
In Impressionist painting there were men like William Merritt Chase, John Alden Weir, alongside muralists John LaFarge, Elihu Vedder, Edwin Austin Abbey, and Edwin Howland Blashfield. John Singer Sargent painted the rich and famous of the day while Kenyon Cox was both a famous canvas painter and art critics of the time. In the area of landscape painters came Ralph Albert Blakelock and the Expressionist, Albert Pinkham Ryder. In still life painting tromp l'oeil ruled the day with artists like William Michael Harnett and John Frederick Peto. In photography names like Edward Muybridge, Edward J. Steichen, and even the painter Thomas Eakins appear. In sculpture came Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and John Quincy Adams Ward who chose bronze over the more traditional (at the time) marble. In both bronze and oils, Frederic Remington opened up the west. Winslow Homer was his eastern counterpart working however mostly in watercolours.
In architecture the Beaux-Arts firm of McKim, Mead, and White ruled, except in Chicago where Louis Sullivan was king. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 while Central Park bloomed and the first skyscrapers rose in New York City. The Columbian Exhibition was held in Chicago (and set American architecture back 20 years, according to Frank Lloyd Wright), and Washington D.C. metamorphosed from a dirty little backwater village into the magnificent city of broad avenues, parks and monuments that Pierre Charles L'Enfant had envisioned a hundred years before. It wasn't Rome perhaps but it was a good imitation of it.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
24 February 1998