Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy

November 11, 2011
September 09, 2012

Making American Taste features fifty-five works from the New-York Historical Society’s collection that cast new light on both the history of American art and the formation of American cultural ideals during a crucial period from the 1830s to the late 1860s. By integrating history, literary and religious subjects with now better-known examples of rural and domestic genre, the exhibition explores the broad range of styles and narrative themes that appealed to nineteenth-century Americans seeking cultural refinement.

The exhibition includes Louis Lang’s The Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, N.Y.S.M. from the Seat of War, a Civil War masterpiece rediscovered, as well as works by such canonical artists as Benjamin West, Asher B. Durand, William Sidney Mount and Eastman Johnson. Additionally, significant works by artists who were major figures in their own time, such as Daniel Huntington, Henry Peters Gray and T. H. Matteson, but who have been virtually ignored in current American art surveys, are also on exhibition. The reintegration of these "forgotten" works into the larger art-historical framework challenges the canon of current taste that has elevated genre to a privileged position at the expense of other narrative modes (including Stuart and Tudor, Shakespearean, and idealized subjects inspired by European masters). Together the works expand our understanding of the tastes of the nineteenth-century New Yorkers whose gifts formed the New-York Historical Society’s core collections.

A fully-illustrated publication authored by Barbara Dayer Gallati, Linda S. Ferber, Ella M. Foshay and Kimberly Orcutt and published by D. Giles Ltd in association with New-York Historical accompanies the exhibition.

Making American Taste Curriculum Guide

Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School


The exhibition and publication are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the Walter and Lucille Rubin Foundation, Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles, the Joanne Witty & Eugene Keilin Fund at the New York Community Trust, the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Larry K. Clark, the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation, J. Joe Ricketts, an anonymous donor, and many generous individuals.

Creative: Tronvig Group