This is a three-part perspective on a single work of art: Edward Savage’s The Washington Family (1789–96). Mia L. Bagneris’s essay places this painting alongside other images of George Washington with African diasporic subjects from the eighteenth century to the present to illuminate how the iconic image of the founding father—upheld as a symbol of the values of the nation itself—was and is inextricably bound up in White supremacy and anti-Blackness. Jennifer Van Horn’s analysis is cartographic in focus, situating the painting in relation to geographic debates about slavery and the racialized contest over mobility in light of the relocation of the enslaved person depicted, and in relation to a second version of the image displayed at Henry Clay’s Kentucky plantation. Jennifer Germann uncovers the hidden history of the painting’s London creation to explore Savage’s choice of the enslaved attendant portrait format, and his selection of free Black model John Riley, amidst the uncertainty surrounding the portrayal of Black figures in the 1780s and 1790s. She elucidates how disremembering has obscured John Riley as well as historical Black subjects in American art more broadly.
Admirers of John Ruskin founded the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art, a short-lived but influential art and political reform movement active from 1863 to 1865. With a stated mission promulgated by a house organ called the New Path, the group’s artists, architects and critics claimed to constitute an art movement. They were bound by formal membership, and all espoused dedication to Ruskin’s medievalism and credo of “truth to nature.”
This commitment earned the artists recognition as American Pre-Raphaelites. Their paintings were touted by the New Path as vibrant agents of reform yet were also negatively critiqued for rejecting post-Renaissance illusionism, embracing instead seemingly retrogressive models found in the early Italian paintings. Two collections of early Italian paintings were also on view in New York during the 1860s. These received largely negative popular reception, a response extended to the paintings of the American Pre-Raphaelites. Ironically, these collections introduced American audiences to the early history of Western European painting, ultimately introducing the discipline of art history in the United States.
A spirit of dissent animated the American Pre-Raphaelites, a movement comprising abolitionist artists and like-minded architects, critics, and scientists. In contrast to their more prominent colleagues, the artists now known as the Hudson River School, the American Pre-Raphaelites established themselves as eloquent critics of slavery and antebellum American society. The group united their political and aesthetic commitments by engaging selected pictorial strategies of the British Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and embracing a radical empiricism. In landscapes, nature studies, and still lifes of modest dimensions, the American Pre-Raphaelites refused compositional conventions that endorsed rank, class, power, and possession by elevating the humble while eschewing the monumental. Through an examination of Thomas Charles Farrer’s View of Northampton from the Dome of the Hospital (1865, Smith College Museum of Art), this article argues that the American Pre-Raphaelites advanced what they viewed as an ethical style of landscape painting—one that assertively announced their abolitionism.
By 1863, new beliefs about the relationship between individual consciousness and the objects of its knowing was dividing American culture, including the art world, into three distinct groups. Mainstream artists and the Pre-Raphaelites both sought to create truthful representations. Mainstream artists like Frederic Church were indirect Realists who assumed that they could know the truth of things in the world as they existed in themselves apart from the perceiver’s apprehension of them. The Pre-Raphaelites were direct Realists who argued that mainstream methods were tainted by subjectivity. Anti-modern conservatives, the Pre-Raphaelites insisted that to create truthful representations artists needed to empty themselves of self, which could be accomplished only with the aid of something like divine grace. Opposed to both these groups was an emergent faction that included artists such as John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Gifford, and Winslow Homer. These artists accepted the inescapability of subjectivity, abandoned the ideal of truth in art, and embraced the idea that works of art should be valued primarily as expressions of the artist’s unique experience.
This article uncovers the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century media genre of the “tactile image,” pictures designed to engage hand and eye in tandem. In 1787, a lift-the-flap engraving known as the Metamorphosis was published in Philadelphia, and it quickly multiplied in print and manuscript form. Designed by schoolteacher Benjamin Sands, the flap book’s focused choreography of vision and touch both emerged from and contributed to a period discourse of hands-on pedagogy. Reconstructing the Metamorphosis’s collisions with practices ranging from sampler embroidery to trompe l’oeil painting, I contend that the tactile image makes visible an early national conceptual framework of sensory observation and discernment that reached far beyond the classroom. Ultimately, I propose that the case of the Metamorphosis offers a new analytical lens for considering the interaction of material culture and fine art.
Artists who defected from Communist Cuba not only defined the image of creative freedom in washes of color, but some were also responsible for fostering a visual vocabulary for the AIDS crisis at the end of the twentieth century. However, it was Untitled (White Crucifix) (1986), an assemblage by Miami-based artist Humberto Dionisio, that departed from Cuban legibility in polychrome with a turn toward whiteness. By taking up Dionisio’s artwork, this article advances a queer of color(ing) analysis, which combines José Esteban Muñoz’s “brown commons” project with a discussion of whiteness’s muted gradient, or what this article terms “feeling off-white.” Linking Dionisio’s work to a transnational cultural language of religion, avian metaphors, and sickness, this article contends that the artist innovates AIDS visuality by seeing a pandemic from the vantage point of a sexual exile in a world bereft of color.