previous next

Fine Arts, the.

The earlier settlers in our country were compelled to battle with privations of every kind, and for long years were struggling to overcome the wilderness and to procure food and clothing. This condition did not admit of the cultivation of esthetic tastes. Their architecture was at first little superior in form to the log-hut, and painting and sculpture were strangers to most of the inhabitants. Music, for use in public worship only, was cultivated to the extent of the ability of the common singing-master, and only occasionally poetry was attempted. Engraving was wholly unknown before the middle of the eighteenth [369] century. At about that time Horace Walpole wrote, “As our disputes and politics have travelled to America, it is probable that poetry and painting, too, will revive amidst those extensive tracts, as they increase in opulence and empire, and where the stores of nature are so various, so magnificent, and so new.” That was written fourteen years before the Declaration of Independence. Little could he comprehend the value of freedom, such the Americans were then about to struggle for, in the development of every department of the fine arts, of which Dean Berkeley had a prophetic glimpse when he wrote:

There shall be sung another Golden Age,
The rise of empires and of arts,
The good and great, inspiring epic rage,
The wisest heads and noblest hearts.

The first painter who found his way to America professionally was John Watson, a Scotchman, who was born in 1685. He began the practice of his art at Perth Amboy, then the capital of New Jersey, in 1715, where he purchased land and built houses. He died at an old age. John Smybert (q. v.) came with Dean Berkeley in 1728, and began portrait-painting in Newport, R. I. Nathan Smybert, “an amiable youth,” began the practice of painting, but died young in 1757. During John Smybert's time there were Blackburn in Boston and Williams of Philadelphia who painted portraits These were all Englishmen. The first American painter was Benjamin West (q. v.), who spent a greater part of his life in England, where he attained to a high reputation. John Singleton Copley (q. v.) was his contemporary, and painted portraits as early as 1760. At the same time Woollaston had established himself, and painted the portraits of Mrs. Custis (afterwards Mrs. Washington) and her husband, about 1756. He was an Englishman. At the period of the Revolution, Charles Wilson Peale, who had learned the art from Hesselius, a portraitpainter, was the only American, if we except young Trumbull, who might be called a good artist, for Copley had gone to England. So it was that the fine art of painting was introduced.

At that time there were no professional architects in the country. Plans for churches, other than the ordinary buildings, were procured from abroad. The “meeting-house” of that day was only the shell of a dwelling-house, with very little decoration, and with a small belltower rising a few feet above the roof. The dwelling-houses were extremely plain, generally. When a fine one was to be built, plans, and even materials sometimes, were procured from Europe. But from the beginning of the nineteenth century there have been many highly accomplished American architects, who have carried the people through the various styles—the Greek, Gothic, and Mansard— of architecture.

Sculpture waited long for a practitioner in America, and very little of the sculptor's art was known in this country. Now the increasing demand for statuary promises a brilliant future for the sculptor. Among the earlier of American sculptors were Horatio Greenough (q. v.) and Hiram powers (q. v.). They may be said to have introduced the art. Greenough was the first American who produced a marble group, The chanting Cherubs, for J. Fenimore Cooper. For many years there was a prudish feeling that made nude figures an abomination. So sensitive were the ladies of Philadelphia concerning the antique figures displayed at the exhibitions of the Academy of Fine Arts, that one day in the week was set apart for the visits of the gentler sex. The multiplication of art schools, art museums, and art exhibitions has quite generally dissipated prudery. Crawford gave to American sculpture a fame that widened that of Greenough and Powers.

Music has had a habitation here, first in the form of psalm-singing, from the earliest settlements. Now its excellent professors and practitioners are legion in number. The graphic art in our country is only a little more than a century old. Nathaniel Hurd, of Boston, engraved on copper portraits and caricatures as early as 1762. Paul Revere, also, engraved at the period of the Revolution. He engraved the plates for the Continental money. Amos Doolittle was one of the earliest of our better engravers on copper. Dr. Alexander Anderson (q. v.) was the first man who engraved on wood in this country—an art now brought to the [370] highest perfection here. The earliest and best engraver on steel was Asher B. Durand (q. v.), who became one of the first lineengravers in the world, but abandoned the profession for the art of painting. The art of lithography was introduced into the United States in 1821, by Messrs. Burnet and Doolittle, and steadily gained favor as a cheap method of producing pictures. It is now extensively employed in producing chromo-lithographic pictures. Photography, the child of the daguerreotype, was first produced in England by Mr. Talbot, and was introduced here chiefly by the labors in science of Dr. J. W. Draper, of New York. Indeed, the discovery of the process of making pictures by employing sunlight as the artist was the result of the previous experiments and writings concerning the chemical action of light by Dr. Draper. The American Academy of Fine Arts was incorporated in 1808, and the first public exhibition of works of art followed. At the suggestion of Prof. Samuel F. B. Morse (q. v.) younger painters associated, and in 1826 organized the National Academy of the Arts of Design in the United States.

In 1622 Edward Palmer, a native of Gloucestershire, England, obtained from the London Company a grant of land in Virginia, and from the Plymouth Company a tract in New England. Mr. Palmer died late in 1624. Just before his death he made provision in his will for the establishment, conditionally, of a “university” in Virginia, with which was to be connected a school of fine arts. His will, dated Nov. 22 (O. S.), 1624, provided for the descent of his lands in Virginia and New England to his sons and nephews, saying: “But if all issue fails, then all said land is to remain for the founding and maintenance of a university and such schools in Virginia as shall there be erected, and the university shall be called ‘Academia Virginiensis Oxoniensis.’ ” After providing for scholarships in the university for the male descendants of his grandfather, Mr. Palmer's will provided “that the scholars of the said university, for the avoiding of idleness, shall have two painters, the one for oil-colors and the other for water-colors, who shall be admitted fellows of the same college, to the end and intent that the said scholars shall or may learn the art of painting; and further, my will and mind is that two grinders, the one for oilcolors and the other for water-colors, and also oil and gum-waters, shall be furnished, from time to time, at the cost and charges of the said college.” Mr. Palmer purchased a picturesque island in the Susquehanna, opposite Havre de Grace, Md., which was originally called Palmer's Island. There he expected the university and school of fine arts to be established. The family of Edward Palmer had been identified with Warwickshire from the time of William the Conqueror. During the later years of his life Palmer resided in London, and his collection of rarities and ancient Greek and Roman coins was well known among literary men. This school of fine arts in America was projected years before Dean Berkeley projected his college in the Bermudas (see Berkeley, George) and brought John Smybert (q. v.) with him to cultivate art therein.

In 1791 Archibald Robertson, a Scotchman and a portrait-painter, established a seminary in the city of New York which he called the Columbian Academy of Painting. He succeeded well, and his pupils did honor to the institution. In 1801 Robert R. Livingston, then American minister in France, proposed the establishment of an academy of fine arts in New York. He wrote to friends, suggesting the raising of funds by subscription for the purpose of purchasing copies of antique statuary and paintings for the instruction of young artists. An association for the purpose was formed late in 1802, but it was not incorporated until 1808. Meanwhile Mr. Livingston had obtained fine plaster copies of ancient statues and sent them over. In the board of managers were distinguished citizens, but there was only one artist—Colonel Trumbull. It bore the corporate title of Academy of Fine Arts. It had a feeble existence, though it numbered among its honorary members King George IV. of England, and the Emperor Napoleon, who contributed liberally to its establishment. De Witt Clinton was its president in 1816, when its first public exhibition was opened. In 1805 seventy gentlemen, mostly lawyers, met in Independence Hall, [371] Philadelphia, for the purpose of considering the subject of founding an academy of fine arts in that city. They formed an association for the purpose, and established the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, with George Clymer as president. Their first exhibition was held in 1806, when more than fifty casts of antique statues in the Louvre were displayed, and two paintings by Benjamin West. By purchases and gifts the collection of the academy was unsurpassed in this country in 1845, when the building and most of its contents were destroyed by fire. The as-

Rifles used by the principal nations.

nation.GunNo. of Rounds.
Sweden and NorwayKrag-Jorgensen980 305
United States armyKrag-Jorgensen980.305
United States navyLee0.2365

sociation now has a superb building on Broad Street, which was first opened to the public in April, 1876. Unwise management and alleged injustice to the younger artists who were studying in the New York Academy caused great dissatisfaction, and in the autumn of 1825 they held a meeting and organized a Society for Improvement in Drawing. This movement was made at the instigation of Samuel F. B. Morse, who was made president of the association. At a meeting of the association in January, 1826, Mr. Morse submitted a plan for the formation of what was called a National Academy of Design in the United States. The proposition was adopted, and the new academy was organized on Jan. 15, with Mr. Morse as president, and fourteen associate officers. The academy then founded flourished from the beginning, and is now one of the most cherished institutions of New York City.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1808 AD (2)
1624 AD (2)
April, 1876 AD (1)
1845 AD (1)
January, 1826 AD (1)
1826 AD (1)
1825 AD (1)
1821 AD (1)
1816 AD (1)
1806 AD (1)
1805 AD (1)
1802 AD (1)
1801 AD (1)
1791 AD (1)
1762 AD (1)
1760 AD (1)
1757 AD (1)
1756 AD (1)
1728 AD (1)
1715 AD (1)
1685 AD (1)
1622 AD (1)
November 22nd (1)
January 15th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: