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Paul von Blum

Popular art form, consisting of narrative series of images. The individual framed images are usually accompanied by text in white areas, and the conversations or thoughts of characters are usually in ‘balloons’. The language is associated with specific characters, although some strips are entirely pictorial. The strips are typically horizontal but occasionally vertical. The history of the comic strip is closely linked to the invention of printing. The earliest surviving ancestors of the modern strip, dating from the late 15th century, are sequential German woodcuts dealing with such themes as personal morality, crime, political intrigue, religious persecution, the lives of religious figures, and miraculous events. Similar efforts appeared during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in the Netherlands, Italy, and Russia as well as in Germany.

More traditional European art forms are equally important to the development of the comic strip. Major print series by renowned artists, including Jacques Callot, ...


Ralph Hyde

Darkened room (or rooms), with lenses set into the walls, through which the viewer could inspect magnified, brightly lit and minutely delineated pictures placed at the end of a screened black tunnel. The cosmorama was mainly in use in 19th-century Europe and America. The pictures were painted in oils, in an ultra-realistic manner. Some paintings were perforated so as to create the effect of lit windows or a star-spangled sky, or they incorporated transparencies so that sequences of scene transformations could be produced. The paintings were generally of spectacular subjects—far-off cities, storms at sea, dramatic conflagrations, pyramids, great waterfalls or volcanoes. Visits to cosmoramas provided a substitute for arduous foreign travel, and they were often used to divert and educate children.

The first cosmorama was opened in 1808 by the Société des Voyageurs et des Artistes at the Palais-Royal, Paris. The invention reached New York in 1815, while a Cosmorama Room, exhibiting the Paris paintings, was established at 29 St James’s Street, London, in ...


Marisa J. Pascucci

Terms applied to painters who had studied at either of the two academies in Germany where numerous American artists sought painting instruction. In the mid-19th century some of America’s most esteemed artists studied at the German art academies in Düsseldorf and Munich. By the end of the 19th century hundreds of American artists in search of the latest artistic styles and techniques were working and training at both academies.

The Düsseldorf school of painting refers to a group of painters who taught or studied at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie (now the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf) between the 1830s and the 1860s. During this time the Kunstakademie was held in high esteem throughout Europe and the USA. Rather bohemian in direction, days were filled with classes in drawing and color and also history and anatomy, with nights devoted to socializing centered around reading and discussion. Directed by the painter Schadow family §(3) and artists following the ...


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 (...


Oscar P. Fitzgerald

Technique for imitating Asian Lacquer. Once Dutch and Portuguese traders imported lacquer ware from the Far East after 1700, Europeans became fascinated by this technique. Originating in ancient China, it spread to Japan where it is still practiced in the 21st century. The process involved the application of up to a hundred coats of lacquer produced from the sap of the Rhus vernicifera tree, native to China, Malaya, and Japan. Despite attempts to discover the secret, Europeans could not duplicate the process. Since the sap quickly congeals it did not travel well and was toxic like poison ivy.

In 1688 A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing by John Stalker and George Parker explained how to imitate the process by applying shellac dissolved in alcohol over a gessoed surface (see Stalker and Parker). Black was the most common color but red, white, blue, green, yellow, olive brown, and imitation tortoise shell (black streaked with vermillion) were also known. After designs were drawn on the surface, a mixture of red clay or sawdust, whiting, and gum arabic was daubed into the outlines and the raised images were sculpted with engraving tools and then colored with metal dust. A variation called ...


Sandra Sider

Abbreviation for ‘optical art’, referring to painting, prints, sculpture, and textiles exploiting the optical effects of visual perception. The term entered American art vocabulary in 1964, referring especially to two-dimensional structures with strong psychophysiological effects. The reasons for these effects had been explained in three 19th-century treatises: Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre (The Theory of Colors; 1810); Michel-Eugène Chevreul’s De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs (Simultaneous Contrast of Colors; 1839); and Hermann von Helmholtz’s Physiologische Optik (Physiological Optics; 1855–66).

See also Op art.

Painting was transformed after the mid-19th century, once artists understood the three-receptor theory of vision, and how the mind—not the eye—creates colour. The optical experiences in Op art include after-images, line interference, reversible perspective, chromatic vibration, ambiguous forms, and sculptural superimpositions. Op art awakens questions in the viewer concerning the perceptive processes: ‘As we stand before Op paintings that resist our understanding, we introduce ourselves to our unconscious selves’ (exh. cat. ...


Cheryl Leibold

American family of Philadelphia printmakers, printers, painters, and educators. John Sartain and his children, Emily and William, played an important role in the art world of Philadelphia for over a century. Their influence on American art lies primarily in the impact of their work example and leadership on others, and somewhat less from the value placed on their own artistic output. The patriarch, John Sartain (b London, 24 Oct 1808; d Philadelphia, PA, 25 Oct 1897), arrived in Philadelphia at the age of 22. By 1850 he was the city’s premier engraver of illustrations for a wide range of publications. His brilliant mezzotint engravings, often reproducing the work of others, brought graphic art into the homes of all classes. Reproductive engravings, either framed or in books, were widely popular before the advent of photography. Many writers promulgated the display of such prints as a means to refine and enlighten society. Sartain’s most successful endeavours in this field were his large and elaborate framing prints, commissioned by painters, collectors, and publishers to disseminate important works. The finest of these is ...


Saul Zalesch

The Society of American Artists (1877–1906) was the most conspicuous and historically significant of the art organizations that proliferated in New York during the last quarter of the 19th century. It saw itself, and scholars have usually portrayed it, as a liberal challenger to the National Academy of Design . In reality the Society’s birth and operation had little to do with modern conceptions of liberal versus conservative ideals for art but reflected a fundamental American/European split over the way that art progresses and how to educate popular tastes. It was inextricably linked with the interests of members of New York’s traditional cultural elite then defending their leadership against the growing influence bought by the unprecedented wealth of America’s “Robber Barons.”

Although mostly discussed by historians in monographic studies of its more famous members, the Society deserves careful study because the circumstances of its creation, operation, and eventual merger with the National Academy of Design offer richer insights into artists’ attitudes and the complexities of artistic patronage in New York than are usually found in studies of American art of that period....


W. C. Foxley

Genre of art inspired by the land and the peoples of the American West, particularly in the period during and shortly after white settlement of the area. It was practised first by explorer-artists and later by permanent settlers of the area. Incorporating the media of painting, drawing and sculpture, such art records the dramatic topography west of the Mississippi River extending to the Pacific Ocean and often deals with the frequently violent events that helped to shape its settlement. The first major depictions of the area occurred in the years prior to the American Civil War (1861–5), but the heyday of Wild West and frontier art was between 1880 and 1910, when such artists as Charles M(arion) Russell and Frederic Remington lived and worked there, depicting the cowboys and American Indians of the region ( see fig. ). It was this type of art that gave rise to the romantic notion of the West as an area of danger, excitement, and dramatic confrontation, stirring the imagination of many easterners. Aspects of the life and culture of the West continued to be treated into the first half of the 20th century. However, by this time both white settlers and their culture had long been dominant, and consequently the fascination that the region had formerly exercised over white artists dwindled....