TREASURES FROM THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART by William Kloss

TREASURES FROM THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Eighty-one full-page color plates of paintings and sculptures from Washington's National Museum of American Art make up the body of this volume, the first to celebrate the oldest public art collection in the country. Each plate is accompanied by a concise and informative analysis of its style and content. Ninety-two black-and-white illustrations, plus a brief history of the Museum, 26 critical essays and biographies of the artists flesh out the work. The works of art, selected with great care from the Museum's vast collection, range across three centuries from Robert Feke's 1746 portrait of Thomas Hopkinson to Ilya Bolotowsky's ""Vibrant Reds 1971."" The American artists represented include such familiar figures as Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, James McNeill Whistler, Window Homer and Edward Hopper. (Strangely absent: John Singleton Copley and Thomas Eakins.) Lesser-known names include William Holbrook Beard with a hauntingly dreamlike painting, ""The Lost Balloon,"" and Romaine Brooks with an unflinching (and equally haunting) ""Self-Portrait."" Of particular interest are the paintings of Charles Bird King, George Catlin and John Mix Stanley, all painted during the 1820's, 30's and 40's and all depicting the Native Americans who were even then facing either annihilation or banishment. All three artists capture what Baudelaire called the Indians' ""Homeric grandeurs."" It is perhaps significant that in painting ""Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way"" 20 years later, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze did not include a single Native American in his composition. A careful study of Treasures tells much about the shifting values, the nostalgias and nirvanas, ambitions and ambiguities of the American past. Now installed in the historic United States Patent Office Building after more than 150 years of stepchild status, the National Museum of American Art is a welcome addition to this country's cultural scene. The publication of this expansive, beautifully produced work is a fitting tribute to the American painters and sculptors whose works fill its galleries at last. An impressive salute.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press