Compass and Clock Defining Moments in American Culture

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1999-09-01
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

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In this provocative book a prominent art historian offers a new approach to the study of American intellectual history. By analyzing masterworks of literature as well as art and architecture within their cultural context, he vividly demonstrates how America expressed itself at various crucial stages in the nineteenth century as it evolved into a nation.John Wilmerding focuses on three turning points -- around 1800, when America began to find its identity as a republic; 1850, a self-confident period of prosperity and growth; and 1900, a time of anxiety over profound changes in the psychological as well as the physical dimension. The author provides stimulating discussions of the great works of these three periods -- from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and Charles Willson Peale's Staircase Portrait to Thoreau's Walden and George Caleb Bingham's Fur Traders Descending the Missouri to The Education of Henry Adams and the late paintings of Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer -- finding common threads and complementary expressions in the images that writers and visual artists alike drew upon to convey the mood and vision of each distinctive era.A preeminent scholar in the field of American art, Wilmerding brings fresh ideas to the whole range of American creativity, including paintings and sculpture, journals and autobiography, novels and poetry, music and architecture. His close reading of such literary classics as Moby-Dick and Leaves of Grass, juxtaposed with thoughtful discussions of formal and iconographical aspects of such artistic masterpieces as the Washington National Monument and Fitz Hugh Lane's luminous landscapes, provide the reader with a new understanding of recurrent themesin American culture: the expanding geographical scope of the nation, the increasing pace of life and social change in American cities, the growing body of scientific knowledge as a result of exploration and self-examination.<

Author Biography

John Wilmerding, Sarofim Professor of American Art at Princeton University and visiting curator in the Departments of American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was deputy director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., from 1983 to 1988.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Clockwise America 20(5)
Prologue: Articulating Independence 25(14)
Part One. Circa 1800: Expanding Horizons 39(46)
Ideas, Individuals, and Issues
Jefferson's Visions
The Peales: Painting and Science
Noah Webster and American Language
Part Two. Circa 1850: Apex and Apogee 85(70)
Paradoxes of Tension and Calm
The Painters' Illuminations: Lane, Bingham, and Church
The Writers' Renaissance: Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman
The Architect's Abstractions: Robert Mills
Part Three. Circa 1900: Disorientation 155(84)
Memoirs, Music, and Meditations
Inner Sight: Saint-Gaudens, Homer, Peto, and Eakins
The Self as History and Literature: Henry Adams
The New Century's New Energies
Epilogue: Circa 2000 239(2)
Notes 241(10)
Index 251(5)
Photographic Credits 256

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