American genre painting, or scenes of everyday life, flourished during the first half of the 19th century, when the young nation sought images and narratives to define and bolster its developing identity. American Encounters: Genre Painting and Everyday Life provides a close look at three major genre paintings, each of which offers a unique perspective on 19th century America.
Portraying the lives of everyday Americans, genre painting often served as a vehicle for expressions of cultural nationalism. Three paintings in the installation provide examples of American genre painting: Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix (1856) from Crystal Bridges, Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South (c.1870) from the High, and George Caleb Bingham’s The Jolly Flatboatmen (1877–78) from the Terra Foundation. These works will be accompanied by two paintings from the Louvre: Jan Steen’s Festive Family Meal (1674) and William Mulready’s Train Up a Child (1841/1853), representative of the 17th century Dutch and mid-19th century English schools that greatly influenced genre painters in the United States.
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