Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy
Making American Taste features 55 works from the New-York Historical Society’s collection that cast new light on both the history of American art and the formation of American cultural ideals during a crucial period from the 1830s to the late 1860s. By integrating history, literary and religious subjects with now better-known examples of rural and domestic genre, the exhibition explores the broad range of styles and narrative themes that appealed to 19th-century Americans seeking cultural refinement. The exhibition includes Louis Lang’s The Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, 1862, a Civil War masterpiece rediscovered, as well as works by such canonical artists as Benjamin West, Asher B. Durand, William Sidney Mount and Eastman Johnson. Additionally, significant works by artists who were major figures in their own time, such as Daniel Huntington, Henry Peters Gray and T. H. Matteson, but who have been virtually ignored in current American art surveys, are also on exhibition. The reintegration of these "forgotten" works into the larger art-historical framework challenges the canon of current taste that has elevated genre to a privileged position at the expense of other narrative modes (including Stuart and Tudor, Shakespearean, and idealized subjects inspired by European masters). Together the works expand our understanding of the tastes of the 19th-century New Yorkers whose gifts formed the New-York Historical Society’s core collections. A fully-illustrated publication authored by Barbara Dayer Gallati, Linda S. Ferber, Ella M. Foshay and Kimberly Orcutt and published by D. Giles Ltd in association with New-York Historical accompanies the exhibition.