Thursday, September 12, 2013

Who Is The Great American Artist?

After telling a friend about the recently discovered Van Gogh painting, SUNSET AT MONTMAJOR in Provence, one that I missed by about a month at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, I related it was originally purchased by a wealthy Norwegian industrialist in 1908. He was then told it was as a fake so he rolled it up and stuck it in his attic. The current owner of the home rediscovered it and had it appraised. Oddly the Van Gogh Museum authenticated it this time after rejecting it in 1991. Apparently someone actually read his letters to Theo and found mention of it several times. Van Gogh loved the scene but considered the 1888 painting a failure. It is anything but a failure being painted in the final and best years of his life.
Cheyenne Tribe - LEDGER PAINTING

My friend then asked me who is the greatest American painter?"Everyone knows about Van Gogh," he said. "Who is the greatest American painter?" I was stumped. Wracking my brain I came across a bunch of people, but the best?

I "Googled" the question of course and found that while I agreed with some of the answers, others were odd choices or more likely the author's bias in his current era. I mean who WERE some of these people.

Shepard Fairey- BARAK OBAMA/HOPE
One of the last mentioned but probably should be the first considered would be the poeple's the settlers found here. Not much remains of the American Indian's culture and even less of the tribes art, unless of course you consider the cultures of the Southwest great artists. I and many others do.

Gilbert Stuart with his iconic portraits of George Washington came to mind. Yet at the same time, who can forget the recent art of Shepard Fairey and his iconic image of President Obama that will most likely reflect this current era! Using a palette of red, cream and blue, Fairey captured the hope of a nation that while still divided on race and even more on philosophy, was willing to move past the topic of race and instead focus on getting things done. How it will play out is anyones guess but artistically, it is iconic.

America, even in its earliest years had great painters. Most were European trained but in viewing the vastness of the land they lived in were moved to create a style more fitting to the great continent. Americans began to dominate. While
There were artists who had hopes of heaven on earth, artists like Edward Hicks' PEACEABLE KINGDOM. It wasn't to be. The United States also became more like its European cousins with scenes of war dominating the painters palette. Benjamin West's DEATH OF GENERAL WOLFE relates a battle in the New World but gives it all the glory and drama of those battles in the old.


As I meandered through a quick catalog of artists that I considered great American painters I began to realize that there really isn't a single one. I have written about Andy Warhol and while I haven't mused about it here deplore Thomas Kincade for creating a genre of  bedroom and bathroom art. I know that there are many who would argue with this but you have to ask, is a little cabin painted in glowing colors in the woods in scenes that will never be really art? Can it compete with the angst in Andrew Wyeth's paintings? I remember seeing that painting for the first time in an article. I was so struck by a whole flood of emotions including its amazing detail. Yet it seemed to portray, to me at least, a kind of loss, a never attainable event.

Or can Kincaid be compared to Thomas Eakins and his iconic images of the late 19th Century, or John Singer Sargent? James Whistler, George Bellows or even Edward Hopper?

I began to realize there are so many and the images they have created are part of the American experience whether you are an art fan or not. Probably one of the most iconic paintings ever in American art, one that is played with and tortured the most, has to be Grant Wood's AMERICAN GOTHIC. In looking for images for this portrait of a farm couple in the midwest, and believe me I saw their clones a thousand times going to school in Oklahoma, there were also hundreds of variations, twists and spoofs on this. Yet it remains truly American.

Yet, to my surprise while looking for images of great American artists, many that I knew quite well, I stumbled on this amazing Winslow Homer, one that I had missed but that looked amazingly to me like an Impressionist painting. It was created just before that period of art began in Europe. So it seemed, Americans were on the cusp of art even then. This painting, created in 1865, seems to be one of a soldier returning to his farm after the horrific Civil War. Yet, in so many ways it uses the same device as Millet in France and of course Van Gogh.
Winslow Homer - The Veteran In A New Field
 It seems that art, no matter where it is created captures a time and place and for each person, a painting represents something that they cherish or feel for. It can be like a song that never goes away. It just is.

So who is the greatest American artist? I discovered that I had no answer. I only know that there are many that I love and at times review just to see how they handled a problem.

If anyone has a word or three to comment, please do. I would be interested in hearing what others think is the "best" American artist and most importantly why.

Be sure to visit my store - for a series of new items.

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