Discussion Questions (Jason)

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HAA 172w: American Art and Modernity


Week of 2/26/07
Discussion Questions (Jason)
In the chapter we read for this week, Sarah Burns discusses L. Frank Baum’s The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors (1900) at length. As I am sure many of you know, Baum is also the author of The Wizard of Oz, which was also published in 1900. In fact, some elements of The Wizard of Oz are derived from his window displays – the Tin Man, for example, is based on a hardware window display of different kinds of metal items, including tools, funnels, nuts and bolts. What, if any, are other relationships between Baum’s involvement in commodity display/marketing and the narrative of The Wizard of Oz? Is Dorothy’s dream travel analogous to the American turn-of-the-century experience of commodity spectacle and gluttonous (visual or literal) consumption of goods? Or is her dream the opposite of materialistic/worldly spectacle and consumption? Is her dreamscape a painting by Harnett or a painting by Whistler?
In the book version of the story, with the revelation that the Wizard is merely a man hiding behind a curtain where he has been producing an impressive, deceitful phantasmagoria of a powerful (and “real”) presence, the Wizard terms himself “a humbug.” This is the same period term that was used for deceptions like trompe l’oeil paintings and P.T. Barnum’s deceptive public displays. How is the Wizard of Oz like a trompe l’oeil painting or one of Barnum’s displays? (Note: we’ll discuss P.T. Barnum together with the work of Marcel Duchamp when we read another piece by Michael Leja during Week 8)

Discussion Topics (Marisa)

1) Navigating surface/depth in painting

2) Portraiture in the Gilded Age

3) Realist/spiritual art in relation to consumer culture

4) The appeal of the exotic


1) The Gilded Age

2) Orientalism

(see Edwards, Holly, ed. Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures… in bibliography below for a good introduction to the American phenomenon)

3) William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)

4) Aesthetic Movement

5) Japonisme

6) James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

7) Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)

8) John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

9) The artist’s studio
Relevant Artworks in Local Collections (if interested…)

1) Whistler:

Nocturne in Blue and Silver, ca. 1871-1872 (Fogg Museum, Harvard)

Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour, 1872-1874 (Fogg)

Nocturne in Grey and Gold: Chelsea Snow, 1876 (Fogg)

Self-Portrait, 1890-1899 (Fogg)

Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville, 1865 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

Nocturne, Blue and Silver: Battersea Reach, ca. 1872-1878 (ISGM)

Lapis Lazuli, 1885-1886 (ISGM)

Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon, Venice, 1879–80 (MFA)

Harmony in Flesh Colour and Red, about 1869 (MFA)
2) Dewing

Lady in Yellow, 1888 (ISGM)

A Garden, 1883 (MFA)

3) Sargent

El Jaleo, 1882 (ISGM)

Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888 (ISGM)

A Tent in the Rockies, 1916 (ISGM)

Mrs. Gardner in White, 1922 (ISGM)

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882 (MFA)

Triumph of Religion, 1890-1925 – a mural cycle in the Boston Public Library (recently restored)
4) Artistic houses; being a series of interior views of a number of the most beautiful and celebrated homes in the United States, with a description of the art treasures contained therein, New York, Printed for the subscribers by D. Appleton, 1883-1884.

(FA2630.10 PF, 2 vols., available in the Fine Arts Library, ask at the desk)

Two additional collections critical for the study of Aestheticism, Tonalism, the Arts and Crafts Movement, Orientalism, and/or Japonisme in the area:

1) The Ipswich Historical Society & Museums, Ipswich, Massachusetts, which has personal archives for and the largest collection of artworks by (town native) Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), the figure largely responsible for bringing the study of Japanese art to bear on the production and construction of American modernism. http://www.ipswichmuseum.org/

2) The Cornish Art Colony, Cornish, New Hampshire, which operated ca. 1885-1917.
Relevant Additional Reading (not required!)


Dow, Arthur Wesley. Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students

and Teachers. 9th ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1914. [First published Boston: J.M. Bowles, 1899]

Fenollosa, Ernest Francisco. “Papers, 1881-1952 (inclusive), 1881-1909 (bulk).” 3 vols. 6 boxes

(5 linear ft.). Houghton Library, Harvard University. bMS Am 1759-1759.4

———. East and West, The Discovery of America, and Other Poems. New York: T.Y. Crowell

and Company, 1893.

Fenollosa, Mary McNeil. The Dragon Painter. Illustrated by Gertrude McDaniel. Boston: Little,

Brown and Company, 1906.

Morse, Edward S. Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings. Cambridge: Harvard University

Press and Ticknor and Co., 1886.

General sources related to lectures and readings for Week 5:

Burke, Doreen Bolger, et al. In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement. New

York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Rizzoli, 1986.

Curry, David Park. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C.: Freer

Gallery of Art; New York: W.W. Norton, 1984.

———. James McNeill Whistler: Uneasy Pieces. Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in

association with Quantuck Lane Press, New York, 2004.

Edwards, Holly, ed. Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press in association with the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2000.

Fairbrother, Trevor J. John Singer Sargent: The Sensualist. New Haven: Yale University Press,


Hills, Patricia. John Singer Sargent. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association

with H.N. Abrams, 1986.

Hobbs, Susan A., and Barbara Dayer Gallati. The Art of Thomas Wilmer Dewing: Beauty

Reconfigured. New York: Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1996.

Kilmurray, Elaine, and Richard Ormond, eds. John Singer Sargent. London: Tate Gallery

Publishing, 1998.

Merrill, Linda. A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Ruskin. Washington, D.C.:

Smithsonian Institution Press, in collaboration with the Freer Gallery of Art, 1992.

———, et al. After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting. Atlanta: High

Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Pyne, Kathleen A. Art and the Higher Life: Painting and Evolutionary Thought in Late Nineteenth-

Century America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Said, Edward W., Orientalism, 1978 (a flawed but crucial work on French Orientalism).

Geometries and formal echoes: Look for an emphasis or deemphasis on basic geometrical units like circles, triangles, cones, squares, etc. Look for patterns: repeating shapes, nesting shapes, symmetrical arrangements, etc. Identify relationships of scale and number among similar forms.

Light: Where is the lightest light? The darkest dark? For representations: where is the implied light source, and how can you tell? Talk about range, contrast, sharpness or diffuseness.
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