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Angels of Art: Women and Art in American Society, 1876-1914
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Angels of Art: Women and Art in American Society, 1876-1914 (Paperback)

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Synopsis

Images of women were ubiquitous in America at the turn of the last century. In painting and sculpture, they took on a bewildering variety of identities, from Venus, Ariadne, and Diana to Law, Justice, the Arts, and Commerce. Bailey Van Hook argues here that the artists' concept of art coincided with the construction of gender in American culture. She finds that certain characteristics such as "ideal, " beautiful, " "decorative, " and "pure" both describe this art and define the perceived role of women in American society at the time. Van Hook first places the American artists in an international context by discussing the works of their French teachers, including Jean-Leon Gerome and Alexandre Cabanel. She goes on to explore why they soon had to distance themselves from that context, primarily because their art was perceived as either openly sensual or too obliquely foreign by American audiences. Van Hook delineates the modes of representation the American painters chose, which ranged from the more traditional allegorical or mythological subjects to a decorative figure painting indebted to Whistler. Changing American culture ultimately rejected these idealized female images as too genteel and, eventually, too academic and European.

Bailey Van Hook is Associate Professor of Art History at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

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