Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915
October 12, 2009–January 24, 2010
Between the American Revolution and World War I, a group of British colonies became states, the frontier pushed westward to span the continent, a rural and agricultural society became urban and industrial, and the United States—reunified after the Civil War under an increasingly powerful federal government—emerged as a leading participant in world affairs. Throughout this complicated, transformative period, artists recorded American life as it changed around them. Many of the nation's most celebrated painters—John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, William Sidney Mount, George Caleb Bingham, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, John Sloan, and George Bellows—along with their lesser-known colleagues captured the temperament of their respective eras, defining the character of Americans as individuals, citizens, and members of ever-widening communities.
American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915 presents tales artists told about their times and examines how their accounts reflect shifting professional standards, opportunities for study, foreign prototypes, venues for display, and viewers' expectations. Excluding images based on history, myth, or literature, the exhibition emphasizes instead those derived from artists' firsthand observation, documentation, and interaction with clients. These paintings are analogous to original—not adapted—screenplays. Recurring themes such as childhood, marriage, family, and community; the notion of citizenship; attitudes toward race; the frontier as reality and myth; and the process and meaning of making art illuminate the evolution of American artists' approach to narrative.