Picturing a Nation is a major reinstallation of American paintings and sculpture from the Lightner Museum’s permanent collection.
In the decades following the Civil War, the United States witnessed a period of rapid modernization. The dramatic shift from an agrarian to industrial economy irrevocably transformed the country. As a new nation emerged, artists, critics, and patrons all sought to define an American art that captured the spirit of the young nation.
While American cultural, political, and commercial life underwent tremendous changes, opportunities for the creation, exhibition, and sale of works of art expanded, spurred in part by increased patronage from new sources of wealth. The entrepreneurs of the post-Civil War era amassed great fortunes through financing railroads, oil, mining, iron and steel, and other capitalist ventures. These titans of American business, industry, and commerce expressed their new-found status by building stately mansions which they filled with beautiful objects and substantial art collections.
To satisfy their Gilded Age patrons, American artists embraced the broader artistic traditions of Europe, exploring subject matter and styles entirely new to American art. During this time, still life, genre, the human figure, natural history, and particularly the Romantic landscape became popular subjects for American artists. European styles—Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism— were all adopted by artists who filtered them through a uniquely American lens.
From America’s great vistas and natural wonders, to intimate scenes of St. Augustine, Picturing a Nation presents a vibrant vision of the country on a local and national scale through late-nineteenth and early twentieth century American art.