American Colonial Art

The religious settlements of the Puritans and the Cavaliers produced their own types of art, architecture, music and literature, influenced by their European roots.

American Colonial Art of the Seventeenth Century

In the 17th century a tradition of native American painting was developed by practical artisan artists who gathered in New York and Boston. The tradition was based on portrait art and figurative pictures. We do not know the names of most of these artists. The very religious settlers did not approve of the portraits, since their religious beliefs prohibited visual images.

There was also a colonial tradition of decorative art such as heraldic devices, inn and shop signs, coach and furniture ornamentation. These metropolitan centers of industry and commerce in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia created the conditions for a more stable system of art patronage.

Native and Immigrant Painters

The second period of American colonial art is characterized by two main features—the establishment of a native group of artisan artists and visiting artists from Europe commissioned by some wealthy Americans to stay with and paint their families. The native American artists, though still copying European models, gave their paintings a strong individualism indicated by severe lines and box-like proportions within the painting. One famous American painter was Winthrop Chandler (1747-1790), who used a background of books both to symbolize learning and to provide a strong element of design. The visiting artists from Europe included Henrietta Johnston, a French artist who produced a large number of delicate, tinted oval portraits.

Growth of Colonial Art and Architecture

The process of colonization involved several distinctive European cultures. On the far west coast of California was Spanish Roman Catholic Baroque, in Canada and Louisiana were the French of Louis XIV and XV, and on the east coast were the Dutch and English, who had the most lasting influence.

In the South, large plantation homes were filled with American and European furniture, paintings and items of ceramic art. Charleston in South Carolina, soon became the most prosperous and largest city in the South with a series of magnificent townhouses along the harbor's edge.

The New American Republic

The next generation of American painters developed during the Revolution and the formation of a Republic, which was politically independent of the British crown. The two major artists of the period were John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West. They painted historical, mythological and landscape subjects as well as the traditional portrait.

Artists of the Republic

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

Benjamin West (1738-1820)

John Trumbull (1736-1843)

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)

Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827)

Charles Wilson Peale and James Peale (1749-1831)

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812)

John Ramage (1748-1802)

Johann Heinrich Otto

Alexander Robertson (1772–1841)

Archibald Robertson (1765–1835)

Source: American Colonial Art
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