European and American Art, 17th–19th century
Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
This gallery brings together examples of the new materials, technologies, and ways of seeing that animated the art world in the mid-19th century. Painters, sculptors, and photographers developed innovative techniques to respond to a world rendered unfamiliar by urbanization and industrialization. Oil painting remained a leading expressive medium, but painters adapted centuries of tradition to the turbulent, changing times in which they lived. Some turned to the landscape to offset the trauma of the modern city, while others took an interest in the emerging psychology and science of perception. For American painters who faced the trauma of civil war, realism offered the best path to take stock of a nation devastated by bloodshed, factionalism, and social unrest.
The mid-19th century also witnessed the advent of photography. Invented in France and England and widely adapted by 1839, this radical image-making technology astonished early audiences and made formerly elite forms like portraiture available to wide swaths of the population. Photography put pressure on every genre of art making, even as it drew from longstanding art historical conventions. The works in the gallery reflect the influence of this new medium, as well as the new ways of seeing and interpreting the world it brought about.