Genre painting in American art
- Peter John Brownlee
Term applied to figural scenes of ordinary people engaged in the activities of everyday life. Though painted only occasionally throughout the Colonial period and early Republic, genre painting flourished in the United States during the 19th century, a period of intense social, cultural, technological and economic change. Throughout this era, genre paintings featured prominently in annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design and the American Art-Union. They were often reproduced in engravings and chromolithographs and circulated widely as gift-book illustrations. Drawing largely on Dutch and British precedents during the first half of the century, genre paintings made in the United States utilized stock characters adapted from popular literature and the theatrical stage. In their heyday and in the early days of their scholarly rediscovery in the 20th century, genre pictures were considered unadulterated expressions of American character. More recently, however, genre scenes have been examined in light of their cultural politics. Genre paintings revel in wordplay and doubled meaning, catch phrases, political slogans and other forms of vernacular expression; aspects that historically predisposed this style of painting to political and ideological inflection in the antebellum period and after. During and following the Civil War (...