Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Alan Wallach


This dissertation traces the decline of history painting and its domestication in Other artistic forms in the United States. In the three decades between the Mexican-American War and the Centennial, the market for historical art went through a major transformation. Artists shifted from historical to contemporary subjects or represented historical themes in everyday-domestic settings. Monumental history painting, which was supported by art unions and private patrons during the antebellum period, came under critical attack and lost its status as a form of high art. Critical opinion turned especially against paintings of historical struggle and heroic sacrifice which seemed to be removed from the domestic experiences of middle class audiences. Painters domesticated the high moral drama of history painting in more intimate scenes.;I analyze the contest over historical representation from several directions. Part One discusses the institutional changes affecting the transformation of historical art. I focus on two institutions, the American Art-Union and the Cosmopolitan Art Association, a number of private patrons, and several art critics and art journals. Part One establishes a historical framework for the discussion of three individual painters discussed in Part Two. The careers of Emanuel Leutze, Lilly Martin Spencer, and Eastman Johnson allow me to trace the domestication of history through a spectrum of cultural forms including history, genre, and portrait painting.;This study links the decline of history painting to a cultural process which included specific constituencies---artists, patrons, critics---competing for cultural authority. Antebellum history painting had a weak institutional basis and was unable to consolidate a supportive audience. The focus on three painters and their attempts to negotiate changing perceptions of what constituted historical authenticity reveals complex process in which history painting lost its credibility.;My approach to the transformation of history painting relies on various methodological and theoretical sources, including the social history of art, cultural studies, material culture, and the philosophy of history. The dissertation applies theoretical framework to the study of history painting and other historical representations and brings into focus an emerging bourgeois art public in the States.



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