::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Celebrating America in Art

Inauguration Special: America Through the Eyes of its Most Iconic Art

What better way to honor the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States than to look back on the most famous paintings and artwork in U.S. history? Here are some of DaRK PaRTY’s favorite American iconic images.

American Gothic

Grant Wood pai
nted “American Gothic” in 1930 as the United States was entering the Great Depression. The severe expressions on the face of the older man (modeled by Grant’s dentist) and the younger woman (Grant’s sister) seem to capture the essence of austere, hard-working Middle America. The painting is one of the most famous images in the world and one of the most parodied.

Whistler’s Mother

The actual name of the painting
is “Arrangement in Gray and Black: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.” Another painting that captures the harsh plainness of the American Mid-West. James Abbott McNeill Whistler painted it in 1871.

Portrait of Madame X

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of a French socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau, rumored to be one of the m
ost beautiful women in Paris (and legendary for her alleged infidelities). The painting captures Madame X’s personality and her contradictions. It was painted in 1884. Could only a "vulgar" American have painted it at the time?

Washington Crossing the Delaware

An 1851 oil painting by Em
anuel Leutze celebrates Washington’s historic Christmas crossing of the icy Delaware River on his way for a surprise attack on the British at Trenton in 1776. The painting is notable for the way the sun breaks through the clouds and illuminates Washington’s face. The crew represents a cross-section of America.

The Oxbow

This painting by
Thomas Cole is actually called “View from Mount Holyoke, Northhampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm.” It was painted in 1836 and encapsulates the two Americas of the time: the dark wilderness and the sunny civilization tamed by the settlers.

Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)

The American spirit for adventure and daring is represented in this painting of a father and his sons out sailin
g in a stiff wind. It was painted in 1876 by Winslow Homer.

Morning Sun

If Edward Hopper had
been a fiction writer, he would have been Raymond Carver. Hopper depicted the loneliness and complexity of American culture in the shadow and light of his portraits. His most famous work is “Night Hawks,” but we love “Morning Sun,” which was painted in 1952.

Christina’s World

This 1948 painting by Andrew W
yeth (who recently died) depicts a young woman in an open field in Maine looking back at a gray house and barn in the distance. The woman actually suffered from a disease and couldn’t walk, yet the painting seems to capture her longing for her home.

The Problem We All Live With

Does any image capture our Civil Rights era and school integration better challenges than Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With” painted for Look Magazine in 1964?

Campbell’s Soup

Andy Warhol’
s 1968 painting of a Campbell’s Soup can (tomato) nails the idea of iconic American culture in one fell swoop. The simplicity of the work doesn’t speak to the complexity of what it says about the transformation of America in the 1960s.

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