individual imagination

Generational Divisions
In the 1870s a split emerged among artists, as well as
between factions of the artgoing public. These differences
were generational in part. Artists who had made their
careers in the mid-century remained devoted to older
traditions of storytelling, or narrative, and to what were
termed “home subjects.” These artists painted in a highly
detailed, smoothly finished style prevalent in American
art during the 1840s to 1860s. They remained loyal to the
idea that art should place the individual imagination of the
artist at the service of collective uplift and moral education.
A younger generation of artists rejected the requirement
that art remain loyal to American themes. Increased
travel and study abroad-particularly to Munich, Paris,
and Venice-brought artists into conversation with a wider
world and longer history. American art increasingly
addressed themes shared in common across national
boundaries. The younger generation favored newer
“painterly” methods that highlighted the paint surface
rather than disguising the artist’s hand in order better to
mirror nature itself. William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)-
one of the leading “new men,” as critics termed them to
distinguish them from the older artists of the Hudson River
School-summed up his philosophy as artist and teacher in
1899: “It is never the subject of a picture which makes it
great; it is the brush treatment, the color, the line. There is
no great art without a great technique back of it.” 5 How
one saw rather than what one painted became the focus of
a new cosmopolitan art. The shift from the mid-century
aesthetic to a more painterly and fluid brushwork is evident
in comparing the meticulous enamel-like finish of Chase’s
early work (fig. 10.3) with the work he did after his return
from Munich.