Telling Tales: Stories and Legends in 19th-century American Art


Opening Reception: Saturday, March 5, 2016 from 6:30pm-8:00pm

Telling Tales: Stories and Legends in 19th-century American Art provides a new perspective on American art by showcasing works of narrative subject matter from roughly 1825 to 1870, when debates over the role of American art addressed not just content, but the role art should take outside of the European tradition. By integrating history, literary and religious subjects with now better-known examples of landscape and scenes-of-everyday-life, this exhibition introduces modern audiences to the broad range of styles and narrative themes that appealed to 19th-century Americans.

The exhibition drawn from the New-York Historical Society’s expansive collection of narrative art includes 53 works by such well-known artists as Benjamin West, Asher B. Durand and William Sidney Mount, among others. Also included are significant works by artists who were major figures in their own time, such as Daniel Huntington, Henry Peters Gray and T. H. Matteson, but who have been virtually ignored in current American art surveys.

Telling Tales: Stories and Legends in 19th-century American Art will be shown in the cantilevered gallery and organized around six themes specified by the New-York Historical Society: European Inspirations and American Ambition emphasizes American artists’ early reliance on and influence of European traditions; Inventing American History focuses on artists’ interpretations of national pride, glorifying the country’s origins; Traditions Retained and Transformed; Painting Literature and History represents early debates about the superiority of literature to painting; Everyday Life in the Yankee Way is comprised of genre subjects; Picturing the Outsider focuses on works featuring Native Americans and African Americans and The Life of the Spirit introduces works of art that recognize the spiritual elements of American life.

This exhibition has been organized by the New-York Historical Society.

The exhibition was organized and the accompanying volume published with generous support from Michael Reslan, the National Endowment for the Arts through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the Walker and Lucille Rubin Foundation, Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles, the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, the New York Community Trust Joanne Witty and Eugene Keilin Fund, Larry K. Clark, and the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation.

The title is adapted from Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy organized by the New-York Historical Society.

Telling Tales is supported by the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.