A Patriotic Top 10

In honor of our most patriotic month of the year, Bridgeman runs down our top 10 American paintings and photographs.

Emanuel Leutze & Thomas Sully: Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River

On the night of December 25-26, 1776, the revolutionary troops led by George Washington crossed the Delaware River for a surprise attack on forces occupying Trenton, New Jersey. Although not the seminal battle of the American Revolution, the treacherous crossing came to symbolize both Washington's military acumen and a romanticized legacy of the underdog revolutionaries defeating Britain for eventual independence. Occupying the top 2 spots on our list, Leutze's and Sully's renditions of the Delaware crossing, although historically inaccurate, evoke strong patriotic sentiment.

More works by Thomas Sully

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Washington Crossing the Delaware River, 25th December 1776, 1851 (oil on canvas) (copy of the original) by Emanuel Gottleib Leutze / Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

The Passage of the Delaware, 1819 (oil on canvas) by Thomas Sully / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Our Banner in the Sky (oil on canvas) by Frederic Edwin Church / Private Collection/ Photo: Christie's Images

 

Our Banner in the Sky
by Frederic Edwin Church

A member of the Hudson River School, Frederic Church's landscape paintings capture the optimism of a mid-19th century America that was quickly expanding west. While his paintings are incredibly detailed, they also evoke the spirit of Romanticism that was prominent in Europe at the time. Light was a central character in all of Church's paintings, which give his works a spiritual quality.

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The Oregon Trail
by Albert Bierstadt

German-American born Albert Bierstadt, a Hudson River School contemporary of Frederic Church, also focused his attention on the 19th century westward expansion. Whereas Church's subjects were primarily northeastern, Bierstadt turned his eye to western landscapes, even joining several journeys himself. Bierstadt's work echoes the luminism and romanticism of his Hudson River School, and later, Rocky Mountain School peers.

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The Oregon Trail, 1869 (oil on canvas) by Albert Bierstadt / Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH

 

Grant Wood and Gordon Parks: American Gothic

Painted in 1930, Grant Wood's original has as many intepretations as parodies. It was assigned its most enduring interpretation during the Great Depression as a symbol of the American pioneer spirit. As for parodies, the first and most poignant one came from photographer Gordon Parks in 1942. His depiction of Ella Watson, a black cleaning woman from Washington D.C., standing in front of the flag with a broom and mop, was a statement about racial discrimination that the photographer had himeself experienced. In our humble opinion, expressing oneself, even if one doesn't agree with the popular sentiment of the day, is the most patriotic thing one can do.

View works by Grant Wood

View works by Gordon Parks

 

American Gothic, 1930 (oil on board) by Grant Wood / The Art Institute of Chicago

 

American Gothic, Washington D.C., 1942 (gelatin silver print) by Gordon Parks / Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

 

The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Veteran in a New Field
by Winslow Homer

Painted not long after the end of the Civil War, Winslow Homer's painting of a veteran Union soldier returning to his life is simultaneously optimistic and grief striken. While comforting that life indeed goes on after tragedy, there is a distinct air that the soldier (and the country) will never again be the same. The bright blue sky, the field full of wheat and the soldier's laying down of his military uniform ultimately give us hope over the underlying references to death such as the scythe and the fallen wheat stalks.

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Three Flags
by Jasper Johns

Although meant to be divorced of its conventional meaning in Jasper John's Neo-Dadaist (or Pop) painting, the flag as a visual object is no less powerful. That Johns strips the symbolic and romantic context out of the flag by focusing on the flag as series of graphic elements and color fields, allows us to impart our own meaning on what we see.

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Three Flags, 1958 (encaustic on canvas) by Jasper Johns / Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (DACS)

 

 

Gilbert Stuart & Mathew Brady: Portraits of Washington and Lincoln

Stuart's and Brady's iconic portraits of the most beloved of American historical public figures round out our top ten. Gilbert Stuart's original portrait was never finished, but he painted 130 copies from the original which he sold for $100 each. His iconic portrait of our first president graces the one-dollar bill and countless postage stamps. The foremost American portraitist, Stuart painted no less than 1,000 people in his lifetime including our first six presidents. Mathew Brady's portraits of then candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860, are credited by Lincoln himself as a major factor in getting him elected (along with his Cooper Union address). Brady's portraits dispelled the rumors of Lincoln's unelectability due to his homely and gangly appearance by portraying the future president as attractive and at ease. It is rumored that after the portraits were circulated Lincoln received a letter from an 11-year old girl suggesting that his thin face would be better served with a beard. He must have taken her advice because he showed up fully bearded to the White House the following year.

View works by Gilbert Stuart

View works by Mathew Brady

 

George Washington, 1796 (oil on canvas) by Stuart Gilbert / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Abraham Lincoln, 1860 (b/w photo) by Mathew Brady & Studio / The Stapleton Collection

 

 


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