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10: A New Internationalism- The Arts in an Expanding World, 1876-1900

  • Page ID
    169166
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University
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    IN THE LATE nineteenth century, encounters with the art worlds of Paris and London influenced many American artists, who found in this internationalism a liberating departure from the nationalistic styles that preoccupied American art before the Civil War. Several new developments interrupted the nation's absorption with itself. In 1866, after twelve years of effort, the first transatlantic cable was laid. The cable-two thousand miles long and three miles deep-replaced a months-long ocean voyage with instantaneous telegraphic communication. In addition, the increased industrial capacity sparked by the Civil War yielded "peace dividends," such as a new generation of larger, faster ocean liners. Suddenly, the Atlantic Ocean once the barrier symbolizing America's exceptionalism and historical remove from Europe-became a means of connection.

    Beyond such technological bridges, the war experience also encouraged a new, more pragmatic and flexible outlook, coaxing the nation beyond its provincial certainties and strong local attachments. In similar fashion, exposure to European society tempered individualistic attitudes: Americans became more willing to see that the individual is also shaped by circumstances of family, and by habits of mind and social background. The socially constructed self acquired new significance.

    Figure 10.1: LOUIS COMFORT TIFFANY, Vase, 1893-1896. Favrile glass, 9⅛ in (22.9 cm) high. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of H.O. Havemeyer, 1896.
    Figure 10.1: LOUIS COMFORT TIFFANY, Vase, 1893-1896. Favrile glass, 9⅛ in (22.9 cm) high. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of H.O. Havemeyer, 1896.

    Improved transportation and telecommunication fostered travel, international exchanges among artists, exposure to European art publications, participation in international exhibitions, and increased commercial relations, linking the United States with the Mediterranean world and Japan, and introducing new directions into American art. The first of these was a turning away from the urge to create self-consciously national art. Instead, artists saw themselves as members of a community of like-minded artists and patrons. Innovative styles, techniques, and materials introduced greater opulence and variety (fig. 10.1). Paralleling growing class distinctions, the nation's visual culture became more separated along lines of the fine arts and popular media. In addition to a new generation of talent, the new national and international infrastructure of trade and commerce introduced innovative methods of marketing and distribution.

    Figure 10.2: World's Fair, Machinery Hall, Chicago, 1893, from The Magic City, J. W Buel, St. Louis, Missouri, 1894.
    Figure 10.2: World's Fair, Machinery Hall, Chicago, 1893, from The Magic City, J. W Buel, St. Louis, Missouri, 1894.

    In 1851, and again in 1876 and 1893, a series of World's Fairs-exhibitions featuring the arts and industries of countries around the globe-made arts and design from all regions of the world available for designers and consumers alike (fig. 10.2). From Asia to the Middle East, the world became a single marketplace, while historical discoveries from Egypt to ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy, and Japan likewise opened a storehouse of styles. As the American novelist and quintessential cosmopolitan Henry James put it, "We [Americans] can deal freely with forms of civilization not our own, can pick and choose and assimilate and in short .. . claim our property wherever we find it."1

    The new internationalism introduced sensuous experience and visual delight to the nation's artistic output, in contrast to the moralistic and nationalistic impulse of much American art up to that time. In the fine arts, architecture, and the decorative arts this period was distinguished by a spirit of experimentation, an openness to new, revitalizing influences and new solutions for old problems, and a readiness to look well beyond national traditions for inspiration.

    Thumbnail: JOHN SINGER SARGENT, Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (detail), 1882. Oil on canvas, 87⅜ x 87⅜ in (221.9 x 222.6 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.


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