Art and the Higher Life: Painting and Evolutionary Thought in Late Nineteenth-Century America (Google eBook)

Front Cover
University of Texas Press, Jul 22, 2010 - Art
0 Reviews

Late in the nineteenth century, many Americans were troubled by the theories of Charles Darwin, which contradicted both traditional Christian teachings and the idea of human supremacy over nature, and by an influx of foreign immigrants, who challenged the supremacy of the old Anglo-Saxon elite. In response, many people drew comfort from the theories of philosopher Herbert Spencer, who held that human society inevitably develops towards higher and more spiritual forms.

In this illuminating study, Kathleen Pyne explores how Spencer's theories influenced a generation of American artists. She shows how the painters of the 1880s and 1890s, particularly John La Farge, James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Dewing and the Boston school, and the impressionist painters of the Ten, developed an art dedicated to social refinement and spiritual ideals and to defending the Anglo-Saxon elite of which they were members. This linking of visual culture to the problematic conditions of American life radically reinterprets the most important trends in late nineteenth-century American painting.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


The American Response to Darwinism
John La Farge and the Sensuous Environment
James McNeill Whistler and the Religion of Art
Aesthetic Strategies in the Age of Pain Thomas Dewing and the Art of Life
Ideologies of American Impressionism
Select Bibliography

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 17 - Evolution is an integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation. 2
Page 22 - The conscious soul is not the product of a collocation of material particles, but is in the deepest sense a divine effluence. According to Mr. Spencer, the divine energy which is manifested throughout the knowable universe is the same energy that wells up in us as consciousness.

References to this book

All Book Search results »

Bibliographic information