Most art from the American colonial period consisted of portraits, as settlers sought to establish their identities in a new world. After the new nation achieved its independence, landscapes and scenes of native flora, fauna, and folk customs began to express its unique qualities and illustrate nation's resources.
Portraiture (a pictorial representation; portrait) was the main subject matter in colonial and federal American art, as immigrants to the New World attempted to bring an appearance of Old World civilization to their unsophisticated surroundings. When Benjamin West arrived in Rome in 1760, he was the first American artist to study in Europe. West soon emerged as Europe’s foremost history painter, dropping the allegorical details from classical antiquity that had been the typical in European painting and basing his work on historical research.
John Singleton Copley followed West’s example in depicting past and present events with believable accessories and settings. Gilbert Stuart, who studied with West in London, revitalized the concept of “Grand Manner” portraiture.
Source: American Painting
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