"McCoubrey was one of the first to make sense of American exceptionalism in a way that didn't separate American culture from its origins. He is also a sensitive art critic who has managed to preserve the integrity of the act of painting without isolating it as an autonomous act. The reappearance of this book is an event in American studies, the resurrection of a classic."—Richard SennettWhat is distinctively American about American painting? In American Tradition in Painting, John McCoubrey addresses this question by focusing on essential American qualities that appear not only among the abstract expressionists but also among the earliest colonial portrait painters, who relied on vision rather than technique.
Whether discussing early portraits, landscapes, nineteenth-century genre painting, the Ashcan school, or the masters of our postwar era, McCoubrey shows us—with the visual help of carefully chosen paintings—those attributes that have remained peculiar to America. In doing so, he creates a unified vision of the history of American art and the general conditions and preoccupations of our artists.
"Being realists, most American artists have gone to the hard reality of things as Copley first did, or as Eakins did. The unity of our art lies deeper than style. It is not to be found in what American artists say, or even in what they intentionally paint, but rather in what springs from the edge of their consciousness—no more planned than were the revelations of our nineteenth-century novelists. Its unity is contained beneath the changeable look of things. Into our new painting, its way prepared by a deliberate suppression of precise, conscious control, have come the familiar signs of American experience, to be read, as always, in the nature of the space and of the things in it, and in the unique effects of a continuing American realism."—from American Tradition in Painting
John McCoubrey is James and Nan Farquhar Emeritus Professor in the Department of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania.